I’m gonna come clean: I’m not a huge reader of Comic LO. But not without good reason. See, with Comic LO being one of those phone-book sized manga anthologies, it’s a publication that is better paged through physically than a directory visually scanned in thumbnail mode. Also, it’s just nice to support the publishers, right? What I’m saying is, I only really partook of the fine contents of Comic LO during my time in Japan, amassing around four volumes. A book a month at 680 yen a pop wasn’t a terrible investment, especially considering I more or less got back what I paid upon selling them to Mandarake before heading back to the States. (It would have been a bad idea to bring those things back considering their sheer size, along with the fact that our buddy Handley was getting thrown in the slammer over these sorts of things.) But it wasn’t as if I hadn’t looked at LO in the past. I did illegally acquire a volume here and there, but the varying quality of the work within, matched with the annoyance of scanning through hundreds of pages on a computer monitor kept me from diving any deeper. But what did catch my eyes each time were the expertly illustrated covers.
Fast forward to Japan: I’m in a book shop in Nishi-Kawaguichi, and the latest volume of Comic LO is smack-dab in front of my face. I pass it by for a few days on my daily commute, but then finally work up the courage to bring it to the counter. Its physical presence, 680 yen price tag, and lovely cover just call out to me. I ended up repeating the process three times during my trip, and each time the cover sealed the deal. And hey, the stories were pretty good this time around, so it wasn’t a bad call. Maybe their contributors got better.
But the covers. They are a force to be reckoned with. Much like Comic LO, I digitally thumbed through Takamichi Love Works, but it wasn’t until buying the real deal that I came to really appreciate the man’s work. Having the book just a glance away in my tiny room in Saitama begged repeated viewings, and each time I was blown away.
Takamichi Love Works, if you haven’t figured it out already, is a collection of covers, as well as other promotional illustrations, for Comic LO; all by an artist who goes by the name of Takamichi. I’m not intimately familiar with the man’s work outside visiting his website a couple of times, and digitally thumbing through another one of his books (that I unfortunately do not own) but the work present in Takamichi Love Works is more than enough to gain a strong appreciation for the man.
For the uninitiated, allow me to liken Takamichi’s work to that of Murata Range. They both straddle that line between realistic and cartoonish, making their works particularly compelling. But when these artists are pushed off balance, they fall in opposite directions. As opposed to layering his work with rich textures and complex shading like Murata, Takamichi errs on the side of the simplistic. But this isn’t to say Takamichi’s work ever loses its realism. In fact, it’s this realism that gives his work a unique edge.
When it comes to the realm of Artists Who Draw Cute Girls, you have to admit, there’s not much diversity. While styles diverge somewhat, there’s a set “database” (god, fuck that word) of visual shorthand that these works draw from, resulting in a lot of them looking more or less the same. This isn’t to say I don’t enjoy run-of-the-mill “cute” artwork, but the artists that really stand out are those that assert their own styles boldly within this framework, effectively breaking out of it. Takamichi’s girls are cute, wide eyed, smiling, and–dare I say it–moe, but they don’t look like the types of girls your second-rate visual novel artist would draw. Rather than draw from the well of self-referencing otaku visual cues, Takamichi goes back to basics and looks at the world around him. And the girls around him. Hopefully he just looks at magazines, and doesn’t stalk outside of schools or anything.
But yes, his girls more or less look like real Japanese girls. Black hair, black eyes, small build, the works. Yet at the same time, they have exaggerated, cartoony facial features, that then emote realistic expressions. Relaxed smiles, wistful gazes, cheeky smirks and longing stares are all gracefully pulled off with the right amount of subtly. More outrageous bursts of expressions–big smiles, laughing faces, the odd look of surprise–lean more on anime shorthand to get the point across, but there’s still a strong sense of genuine exuberance and heart that shines through. And even though Takamichi’s girls have anime-proportioned features, he handles faces–particularly eyes and head shape–in a style all of his own.
The charm of Takamichi’s work doesn’t stop at his girls’ smiling faces, though. It’s in his whole approach to composition and subject matter. A lot of Cute Girl Artists come at their work in a very clinical and calculated manner when it comes to what they make their girls do. Often times devoid of real backgrounds, they exist in a world of all of their own as a pinup, or something similar. While work like this has merit, Takamichi once again stands out from the pack by grounding his work in reality. His work is similar to that of a photographer. Take one of those on-the-front-lines journalists who snaps photos from inside a war zone. Takamichi is like that, except for his war zone is the daily life of young girls.
That’s not to say that any of these illustrations come off as particularly candid. While there are some candid shots throughout the book, often times Takamichi’s subjects look at the “camera.” But while his girls obviously look directly at you, they’re caught in various slices of life. As opposed to posing his girls in bikinis or having them pull off idol dance moves, Takamichi’s girls can be found playing with pets, relaxing at home, going to school, passing time at a train station, crouching in a corner, and devouring ramen. But it’s not as if Takamichi doesn’t take his camera to the beach, and yes, the bath as well. Frilly bikinis and the lovely school swimsuit make appearances often, and every now and again we’re treated to some adorable nude shots. But these situations never feel especially sexual. Sure, I find them sexually stimulating; these are covers for Comic LO, after all. But the girls themselves are just being girls, and aren’t posed in contrived ways to exemplify their sexual characteristics. It’s sensual, not sexual (thanks, mt-i.) In fact, some of his nudes look like the sort of thing you’d draw in your college art class. Well, the girls in your college art class would be of age, of course.
When the girls aren’t naked or donning cute swimwear, it’s their outfits that charm. Any lolita artist worth their salt has a keen eye on children’s fashion, and fashion is where Takamichi shines particularly brightly. He ranks amongst greats like Barasui and Inuboshi when it comes to dressing his subjects up in cute clothing, be them winter coats, summer dresses, tank-tops, simple t-shirts, and all manner of skirts. He’s also a master of school uniforms. In order to up the cuteness quotient, these articles of clothing are then accented with patterns such as polka dots, stripes, plaid and flowers. Frills and other girly accessories help, too. A bright red randosel will also assert itself wherever it can, natch.
Takamichi’s work extends above and beyond just his girls, though. In fact, since Takamichi Love Works is a collection of magazine covers, the girls naturally have to be the primary focus. But a cursory look at some of his other works reveal that Takamichi’s fetish for profoundly engrossing environments is as strong–if not stronger–than his fetish for Cute Girls Doing Cute Things. Yes, the icing on the cake for every one of Takamichi’s illustrations in Takamichi Love Works are the environments he places his girls in. His slice-of-life illustrations wouldn’t have the same amount of depth if it weren’t for his masterful backdrops.
Takamichi Art Works reveals a fascination with seaside settings, and while these find their ways into a few pages of Takamichi Love Works, Takamichi offers up a number of diverse locales such as shrines, the mountains, and various locations in the home. None of these settings are particularly busy looking, and lean towards small town–and even inaka–settings, as opposed to bustling urban settings. And while these backdrops are detailed, Takamichi’s not obsessed with capturing gritty detail, and instead opts to define space with an expert manipulation of flat colors and shapes. In fact, the defining element that brings all of Takamichi’s work together is an amazing use of color and shading that create immersive and convincing environments for every single one of his illustrations. Sunsets burst with bright purples and oranges, a ramen stand at night is brought to life by sharp contrasting lights and darks, and an overcast beach is lavished with deep shadows and desaturated blues.
All of these elements–the posing, the expressions, the environments–come together to create a very distinctive atmosphere that permeates throughout Takamichi Love Works. It’s an atmosphere that puts you right back in the midst of youth; a celebration of the lives of young, active, and attractive girls. Takamichi’s snippets of girls’ lives gets you caught up in the middle of it all. When you thumb through Takamichi Love Works, you’re actually there while that girl blow dries her hair, plays with her cats, or takes a photo. She isn’t some unattainable ideal. She’s real. Right there, living her life, in front of you. This is the ultimate charm of Takamichi’s work. Probably not the best thing to say about a book that catalogs the covers for a lolicon anthology, but hey, it’s the truth!
The book is split into a few sections, with the first 100 or so pages chronicling the covers of Comic LO from the mysterious year of 200x to about mid-2008. The next 15 or so pages consist of special illustrations done for promotional items like calendars and pencil boards. The next 20 pages are a short novella with illustrations by Takamichi that I haven’t read, but probably could since the kanji doesn’t seem too bad. The book ends with a number of pages devoted to Takamichi’s creative process, which are particularly interesting. This section features a few choice covers from across the book, and along with them are the initial roughs and reference material for the illustration. What’s really interesting about this section is how some of the roughs are completely different from the final product, and a handful of them are more or less completed illustrations.
I bought the cheapest copy of this book at Mandarake, and funnily enough it came with more extra stuff than the copy that was 200 yen more expensive. I got three nice prints of additional illustrations not featured in the book, two of which had some of Takamichi’s rough concepts on the back. A good buy if ever there was one.
If you’ve gathered anything from this review, I hope it’s “BUY TAKAMICHI LOVE WORKS.” Yeah, I know you have it on your computer, but it’s printed on really nice paper and it’s just nice to flip through when you have a free moment. The yen to dollar exchange rate isn’t really in our favor right now, but regardless of that, if you have some money to spare, put it down on this book. It’s a better use of money than that limited edition eroge you’re probably eying.