I remember ranting about this back on Gaia Online like 10 years ago. Good times. Well, not really.
Many thanks to Ecclesiastes for looking this rant over for me. Truly, he is the greatest of proofreaders: the kind that doesn’t ask to be paid.
Yoshitaka Amano is the famous character artist of the old days of Square, the guy who designed the characters of Final Fantasies 1 through 6. Or at least, he’s credited as such. Frankly, I don’t think he should be. Because, see, Amano’s artwork? It is complete and utter garbage.
Yes, I’m sure that there are countless fanboys and fangirls spread across the land whose panties just twisted painfully into a knot from some instinctive knowledge that Amano is being badmouthed somewhere, but that’s the plain, simple truth. As an artist, Yoshitaka Amano is horrible. His lazy, ugly creations are almost excruciatingly unpleasant to view. Any clothing or machines or background he creates is messy and over complicated, yet colored either in a crude and overbearing fashion, or halfheartedly, like someone started to give it some watercolors but got bored and left halfway through. 90% or more of his characters are the same starving albino goth woman (who is sometimes passed off as a man) perpetually wearing the same listless, apathetic expression, like a lazy, half-asleep cat who can barely summon the energy to open its eyes just a slit to glare at you. Essentially, Amano’s idea of art is a world of uglily-detailed objects and scenery populated by a clone army of anorexic blonde vampires. If Hitler ever wanted to have some concept sketches made of how his Aryan utopia would look, I’m pretty sure Amano would be his go-to guy. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if there was a book of Amano’s art underneath the bed of more than one member of the KKK.
All that said, Amano’s shitty art style is not the reason I think he shouldn’t be given the credit as a character designer for the earlier Final Fantasy games. At least, it’s not the reason in and of itself. After all, I don’t deny Tetsuya Nomura his credit for the character designs of the games he’s been a part of just because half the characters he makes betray some strange, sort of disturbing fetish Nomura has for size 25 EEEE shoes.
No, the reason I don’t think that Amano should be counted as the character designer for Final Fantasy titles is...well, here, I think a couple visuals will help here. Consider the following characters:
Even Copy-Pasting Taxes My Image Software Skills to Their Limit
First of all, be honest with me: if you were to dress them all in the same outfit, how many of the above characters would you be able to identify? If your answer is more than 3, I’m not sure I believe you.
In case you can’t immediately tell--and who could possibly expect you to?--those characters above are, in order, Faris, Setzer, Edgar, Faris again, Celes, Faris again, Cecil, Terra, Rosa, Lenna, and Butz. Note how the males are virtually indistinguishable from the females, which are in turn virtually indistinguishable from each other, except for Faris, who, paradoxically, can look like 3 separate characters who all look like the same character. Try to wrap your head around that.
Now I want you to look at the way these same characters are seen in the games themselves:
More Super Basic MS Paint Skills
Do you notice something significantly different in this second picture? Maybe the fact that they look like separate people, ones which you could actually differentiate from one another? You don’t have to squint your eyes and concentrate to realize that it’s not the same person being put in different attire and poses. You don’t have to rely on the articles of clothing to make a positive ID. You don’t have to look at the first 3 characters there and try to recall which barely distinguishable cloak belongs to which pasty bleached famine victim. You just know, by looking, that you’re seeing Faris, Setzer, Edgar, Celes, Cecil, Terra, Rosa, Lenna, and Butz lined up there, without having to pause and figure it out. What an astounding idea--individualized physical characteristics!
Now, I don’t know for sure what the development process of Final Fantasy 4, 5, and 6 was like, and what the exact responsibilities of each job position was, but I feel relatively safe in the assumption that Amano was not the guy who actually constructed the sprites and portraits of these characters in-game. Partially because most people hired as concept artists aren’t also the ones in charge of the sprite art and character graphics in-game, and partially because, as stated above, in-game the entire cast doesn’t look like Cersei Lannister’s idea of the perfect orgy.
So since Amano wasn’t the guy actually building the sprites in the games, I don’t think it’s correct to count him as the real designer of the characters’ appearance. Because I don’t know about you, but I think of Terra as a woman with green hair, as seen from her sprite and menu portrait, not blonde-with-the-slightest-green-tint-that-looks-almost-exactly-as-blonde-as-Celes-and-Edgar-and-so-many-other-characters hair. I think of Rosa as being a woman with a normal, human expression, as seen from her menu portrait, not whatever frozen, otherworldly visage of apathy Amano thinks passes as a human face. When I think of Butz and Cloud, or Locke and Squall, I have very definite mental images of each of them, and they’re all reasonably dissimilar from one another. And the reason why I have a clear idea of what each and every Final Fantasy character I’ve encountered looks like, and why very few of them could be confused for one another, is because the thing that formed my visual perceptions of these characters is the game itself in every case. Each time, the game’s sprite-graphic artists embellished enough on Amano’s scribbles that the cast members resembled real, different people.* Thus, if you ask me, the true artists of the early Final Fantasy casts were not Amano, but rather the spriters of the games, who labored on Amano’s work in order to create the images of the casts we know and remember.
* Except in a few rare cases where Amano really did manage to create a character who wasn’t the same malnourished blonde Snow White copy. Like I said earlier, not EVERY Amano drawing of a character is identical to the others, just something like 9 out of 10. Cyan, for example, looks pretty much exactly the same in-game (allowing for the limitations of sprites, I mean) as he does in Amano’s art, but then, he doesn’t look anything like Amano’s typical character, so there’s no need to correct what he looks like in-game.