The Demons Bible is the gift that keeps on giving, this time a lengthy interview with Kaneko Kazuma about his inspirations, demons, their appearance in his art and the Shin Megami Tensei series and a nice explanation for Nocturne’s Vortex. (lots of thanks to eirikrjs)
Some more Demons Bible related stuff here: guest artist demon designs; Kaneko’s comments on his demon designs from Shin Megami Tensei III; mythology behind a few demons (Sakahagi, Manekata, Mizuchi, Kikuri-hime and Arahabaki).
And now, on to the interview!
THE CYBER DEMON ARTIST’S DEMON DISCOURSE
Meeting the Demons
Please tell us, when was your first contact with demons?
KK: At first it was because of the kaiju genre. I loved stuff like Godzi__, Game__, Ult__man and Kamen __ider, so I obviously bought the Jaguar books from Rippu Shobo as well. They were publishing a lot of titles, like ‘Illustrated Encyclopedia of Demons Around the World’ or something about boss characters.
It was an interesting series, full of illustrations, half of them in colour (laughs)
KK: Yes, exactly. At first I was only reading kaiju publications, but those illustrations were terribly good. Looking through them, there were also figures like Ganesha or Alraune.
Were the Jaguar Books what made you want to draw?
KK: Yeah. Also, summer shows about ghosts, UFOs or the Nazca Lines made me realise there were plenty of oddities all around the world. They simply appealed to me and I gradually became a fan of horror movies as well.
The Shin Megami Tensei games also feature demons originating from foreign horror movies. Chris the Car, for example.
KK: There are a lot of things borrowed from movies. This was originally a book by Stephen King, but we named it ‘Chris the Car’ to hide the it…ah, I spilled the beans (laughs). I just love both the movie and King, so making a demon-car gave it an element of surprise.
You have assimilated all kinds of things from foreign movies.
KK: When I watched foreign movies, I’d ask myself how those demons had come about. Of course, I also watched a lot of Japanese titles, movies with demons or the Kita_ series. Well, anyway, when I was exposed to media and something piqued my curiosity, I was not content just with watching, I had to do a lot of research as well. For example, what’s ‘Abura sumashi’? (laughs)
And when you are doing research, for instance, you get the feeling you are getting mesmerised (laughs).
KK: Once I went to the bookstore, I’d first visit the ‘spiritual world’ shelves (laughs). Well, more like amateur stuff and all that. Back then they didn’t have fantasy books, so I’d do my best and rummage through both extremes from general anthologies of myths to books with Greek legends aimed at children. Also, manga. Reading them again after all this time made me realise shoujo manga had some really deep stuff in it. Moreover, Ishinomori’s Shoutarou’s Cy__rg 009 had terms like ‘Yggdrasil’, ‘Quetzalcoatl’, ‘Odin’ or ‘Edda’ and since I liked them all, I looked into them.
You’ve been interested in the world of legends for a long time. By the way, if you had not been an artist, what would have you become?
KK: I actually wanted to become a hermit (laughs). There was this scene in a Xian book, where the Japanese army which was advancing in the First Sino-Japanese War made the hermits mad, who ran towards them and ‘Wah!’, opened their mouths, stuck out their tongues and attacked their battleships…it was amazing. I have a feeling I understand why the Hong Kong movies are the way they are nowadays. I mean, their tongues got so long they’d break through the battleship’s bridge and reach the sea! Wasn’t it too salty for them? (laughs)
As expected, you see things in a different light (laughs).
KK: Well, I wanted to be able to do that kind of thing, so I started studying, but I got tired of it before soon and kept having only wicked thoughts. But, you know, you mustn’t do anything dirty until you finish! (laughs) It also felt like I was going to burn to death if I didn’t deal with it, so I gave up on my ascetic practices (laughs).
Encounter with Shin Megami Tensei
Thanks to not becoming a hermit, you are now working on the Shin Megami Tensei series, right?
KK: That’s right. I joined this company by chance, and once I realised what was being done here, I revved up my engines and brought in the things I liked.
What was the first title you worked on?
KK: The NES version of the second one. I was still only a player when the first one got released. That’s why I drew the dungeon maps myself and I was able to recruit a party of Hindu demons, like Krishna, Ganesha or Hanuman. I really like the fact that the Greek gods don’t show up too much. But the times when proper gods appeared were great.
I see. I take it you are not too interested in Greece?
KK: It’s not lack of interest, maybe more like overexposure, I guess. I loved movies like Ray Harryhausen’s ‘Jas__ and the Argonauts’ and heard a lot about various gods, like Zeus or Apollo. Nevertheless, I am interested in legends on the whole. Legends are surprisingly in touch with current life, don’t you think? There are, after all, both shinto shrines and Buddhist temples and if you look even at the foods and drinks, there’s a link to world myths. Once I discovered that I was impressed, happy and enthusiastic and felt I had gotten smarter.
The Shin Megami Tensei series is like a subtle nudge to our thirst for knowledge.
KK: We’re actually trying to make it really obvious. Well, the thirst for knowledge is the desire to improve yourself. Maybe it’s sensitivity in a way. When people are hurt by others, there are some who hurt them back and others who don’t. When it comes to people who are hurt, they may also think about what to do so they won’t hurt others…
Are the people who get hurt the ones who find it easy to improve?
KK: Yes, that’s what I think. If they choose that way of life, then their depth will be obvious when they get old and they will be able to give children open-minded advice when they get hurt: ‘Wouldn’t it be better to do it this way?’. Of course, there are also lecherous old men with ulterior motives (laughs).
Are you aiming for open-minded games?
KK: Yes and I’m not limiting myself to games (laughs).
Creating images and turning them into reality
What material did you use as inspiration for the franchise’s demons?
KK: Old medieval woodblock prints, mysterious wood carvings from South America, Micronesian style masks from the vicinity of the Pacific Rim, terracottas from the Middle East…
Have you actually decorated your room with masks?
KK: No, if I start buying them, I won’t be able to stop, so I decided not to collect them at all. There would be a problem with the storing space as well (laughs). I prefer visualising rather than sensing them, I like seeing the figures and so on, so I collect books with a lot of pictures.
Art books or photo collections?
KK: Photos by people who went abroad. There are a lot of interesting masks in photographs about festivals all around the world, you know? I really love the charm of the silhouettes of things, things with changing shapes. After that, I also like the bearded Agares riding a frog and it would be nice if he whined like Kikimora*. His nose would make him look touchy all the time as well.
Like Le Breton’s illustrations from the Dictionnaire Infernal.
KK: If I find anything I really like, I just insert it as it is in my illustrations.
There is also too little material sometimes.
KK: Exactly. Take Baal, for example; I look over materials to find out what he represents conceptually, but I’m not sure whether he’s the god of good harvest or the god of the underworld. And, bam! I suddenly get an idea and give it shape.
That is where your characteristic designs and colouring appear, right?
KK: I still have one more rule. There are also memory or program related limits, so I think even while using so-and-so components well whether I can use another one. Of course, the appearance is important as well. There are also the components used for giving a demon form, to which I add changes in colour and shape, leading thus to nearly 300 different images one after another.
The elements of the designs become even more important.
KK: Yes. That is why, when we create a game, the total result must give off the feeling of ‘substance’ no matter what. And this is my wishful thinking, but I would also like each of them to have their own particularities, able to leave an impression.
Moreover, these demons, the result of so much hard work, not only carry their legendary attributes, but also have something modern in them.
KK: They are, in the end, the results of people’s thoughts, so the spirit of the age will show up. The soldiers drawn by Le Breton too were wearing the armour of those times, and if someone drew the same demons nowadays, the keyword would be the notion of ‘soldiers’, however, not with the plate and helmet, but with contemporary clothing.
There are also people who prefer the old concepts.
KK: To be honest, this is a long series and I’ve drawn quite a lot for it, so when I renew some designs, I don’t do it to show how much I’ve improved in style or composition, but simply because I think they’re more interesting that way. Besides, I also introduce some modern interpretations.
This also happens a lot in movies and American comics.
KK: Actually, drawing is difficult. Baal’s form and role, however, change depending on the age and region. By nature, he is close to a monotheistic god, so the basis is the same, but still.
It’s impossible to include everything.
KK: Yes, that’s right. That’s why…I end up only showing the interesting parts. To put it simply – a mother-type character will have big breasts and so on. Still, we’re talking about demons here, so they should have something monstrous about them or they’d be boring. Of course, there will be people who don’t agree with this. This may sound a little harsh, but I have one word for it: ‘interpretations’.
Megaten fans, however, are endorsing this drawing style, even if it is unconsciously.
KK: If this is true, then it brings me the greatest satisfaction. On the other hand, I think it would be nice to see responses like ‘Unexpected’, ‘So this time it’s this huh’ when a new game appears.
Speaking of particular forms, there are also some surreal directions you are taking.
KK: Those drawings are inspired by things I have witnessed in real life. About ten years ago in a rundown part of Shinjuku there was this club with a beautiful Mi__ drawing in spray paint; it was beautiful, but had a really eerie smile and I realised it was a picture about taking drugs. So, after seeing it, I put it in the game (laughs).
Even so, it was frightening (laughs).
KK: Well, there are others taken from general culture, like Bodyconians. Even people who weren’t interested in fashionable things until now will turn to them at once, don’t you think? If people around me are getting excited, then I’ll do the same! But you see, there’s also some sarcasm towards those people. A little bit of pettiness perhaps?
This time as well there are those characters known as Manekata.
KK: I used The Planet of the A___ as a motif as best as I could. I wanted to draw the process of the Manekata becoming independent, but I couldn’t really find a way to represent it…
Can we think of the Manekata as mannequins, or imitations of humans?
KK: Yes. They’re not humans, but they’re really human like. God’s greatness is linked to the huge number of people who worship him, and without humans there would be no gods. This train of thought was the basis.
I got the feeling that Shin Megami Tensei III is really appreciating Japanese culture.
KK: Yeah. First of all, Shin Megami Tensei was sort of a hodgepodge, but Shin Megami Tensei II had Law as the theme. However, I didn’t want to show a simple gothic Christian setting, but a monastic image, full of things both too dazzling and grotesque.
The Messiah Church, you mean?
KK: We gave that world an extravagant setting, Book of Revelation style. And yet, they say that no matter how much time passes, the Messiah still won’t show up, so the angels decided to make their own. The Messiah as an artificial human was the theme.
On the other hand, Chaos is Oriental, right?
KK: Well, yeah, in a way. In the end, there is the Messiah Church, strictly maintaining European culture. That is why having Law as the theme gives off that constrictive feeling that makes the story flow smoothly. Since II was like this, we had already decided the next title would obviously be based on Chaos, and in contrast with the European atmosphere appeared the Oriental one, or better said, Buddhist or Vajrayana, which probably strengthened the Japanese atmosphere. Nevertheless, the idol of Chaos is Lucifer. To me it feels like establishing the importance of free will. I wanted to create a world setting where one would respect will and would have a good look at themselves.
Creating the world
Are you also involved in the story and setting?
KK: I have actually been involved since the NES days. In Megami Tensei II, the Tokyo – Yokohama Shelter No.3 is an homage to Day of the De__, and I wanted to insert it no matter what, and since I love Fist of the North S__ and M__ Max, I told the entire staff to make the world setting like that. Well, the world setting and basic flow of the story started based on that kind of atmosphere.
Were you also the one who came up with the Vortex?!
KK: Well now! (laughs). It’s a limited space, John Carpenter-style, so I decided to make it the Vortex. I explained everything from its very beginning and got everyone’s approval.
Could you possibly tell us about the beginnings of the Vortex?
KK: It’s a long story, are you sure? (laughs) First, the Earth itself was a living organism. If we were to compare the Earth to the human body, then the existence of humans would be to it on the level of quarks, or maybe something bigger, like atoms, or maybe even mitochondria? Anyway, it’s true that there is a symbiotic relationship. Because of that, doesn’t it feel that society has stopped doing so well?
It feels like it’s arrived at its final point.
KK: Exactly. Therefore, Earth as a living organism thinks that since it’s dying, what comes next is rebirth. The people who were active on the surface are declining. The energy that had been circulating up to that point has to gather somewhere and that space is the Vortex. It’s like the egg or power from which the next world will hatch, its very soul. The presence of that space repeats itself in the history of the universe. You can also say there is a system of connected life chain universe. This is how I perceive it.
That is why the Vortex is a spherical space.
KK: Well, it is thought that the Universe itself has that type of a bubble like structure. There are these kinds of things in the Universe which only have a surface resembling an egg’s shell, but are empty on the inside. We don’t really know what they’re really like though. Basically, they may be fractal structures similar to mandalas. There’s something on the inside, which is divided into other parts…something like that.
If we look carefully at the universe theories nowadays, they end up looking the same as the ones from Hindu philosophy.
KK: It’s interesting if you think about the myths and the outlook on the universe together. In Hindu philosophy too, through fractal structures, everything is Vishnu, if you take it to the extreme.
There was the same view of the world in Gnosticism.
KK: Yes, yes. Gnosticism has the fractal structure view as well. In their outlook on the universe, there was a sphere at first, then another sphere, and so on. In the center of the mandala is Mount Sumeru, then there are several layers with several creatures…They’re similar.
There are common points at the bases of this kind of myths.
KK: There are indeed. In South America, in Quetzalcoatl’s myth, he is fooled by the evil god Tezcatlipoca and killed, but he comes back…well, basically, there’s a Second Coming and an Ascension. His appearance at the time was that of a ‘winged snake’ I think, but, you know, I like speculating that that too is just a different area’s idea for Christ’s death and rebirth.
The same myths changing their form based on region?
KK: Yes. I think they’re customised according to the condition of each region, whether it’s cold, hot or with many storms. There are also stories needed to emphasize the greatness of the great people of those regions. They have a lot of followers attached to them.
If we look at it like this, there are quite similar stories all around the world.
KK: What’s interesting is the world’s rules of numerals, their connection. The Trimurti in Hinduism, the Holy Trinity in Christianity, the three creator gods in Japanese mythology, the basic structure is all the same, isn’t it? Well, three is a holy number all around the world and there are variations according to each region. The three creator gods, for example, where the world was created from parts of their bodies, are similar to the story of Near and Middle East of Dumuzi Inanna’s husband, or the snake goddess Tiamat, the Scandinavian giant Ymir, who are killed and dismembered…The stories are exactly the same.
I think there’s a common starting point somewhere.
KK: It’s the same for the number 4: the four classical elements, the Four Symbols, the Four Heavenly Kings. Of the Four Heavenly Kings only Tamonten and Koumokuten are famous, but on Mount Sumire all four are guarding the four directions. I’ve also heard that the Four Symbols were originally all dragons. Gradually, they were turned or maybe specialised from dragons to the representative of beasts the White Tiger, of birds the Vermillion Bird, of fish the Black Turtle? Finding a good reasoning is a little difficult though (laughs). After this, I like to imagine they were altered to the four creaturesfrom The Book of Ezekiel.
If we trace their origin, it all goes back to the four elements.
KK: And then there are a lot of eights (八) on the Japanese folding fan, right**? Then we have Yasaka(八坂), Yasakani (八尺瓊), Hachiman (八幡)***. The world of Japanese myths and legends has an eternal fascination with the number eight. I have a feeling that is the point that pulls together the Japanese myths.
You really are interested in numbers.
KK: I’ve been interested in strange numbers for a long time, Numerology or Gematria. There’s a lot that caught my eye about the numbers in the Scriptures, for example, like 666, the 40 days and 40 nights, 150 caught fish (seriously, what’s with these numbers). Do they even have a meaning in reality though?
Then what do you think about the Near and Middle Eastern writings?
KK: It’s easy to understand if you look at it…Zoroastrianism, for example, is clearly separated into good and bad. Structurally, there are the god of darkness, Angra Mainyu, and the absolute god of light, Ahura Mazda, they rule for 3000 years each, and 12000 years later the final decisive battle takes place…it’s way too easy to understand, something only humans could have come up with.
The basis are these writings, or more like the thoughts and concepts which gave birth to these writings.
KK: Yes, but I’m also thinking they may have been generated by necessities dictated by the geographical areas of the people…The desert is a world where you either die or survive, so dualism naturally occurred. That’s why it’s tougher if you don’t have a strict god. Saying things like ‘There are also things you can’t do anything about’, they are already in the god’s world, causing it to become your own world view.
There are also gods who are the embodiment of death, like Mot.
KK: I’m pretty good when it comes to things related to the underworld. That’s because in the Orient, gods of the underworld will definitely appear. Even in Egypt, it looks like Horus was able to be born by using only the private parts of his dismembered father Osiris…
It sounds like artificial insemination.
KK: Well, if you put it like that, it ends up sounding like the Raëlian Movement (laughs). Even though it’s far away, in the Middle East, I can’t help but think there are a lot of similarities with Japan. I, too, have drawn a lot the contrast between life and death. Perhaps this is just my view on life and death, but it’s very close to me. I have a feeling that I have no choice but to draw it.
What about South-East Asia?
KK: It’s rich and very enjoyable. Only Shin Megami Tensei approaches this kind of region. There are also things from other regions I want to show, but South-East Asian mythology has its own characteristics I want to focus on. Drawing it, however, is difficult. Turning them into actual bodies is quite difficult. The design of the witch of Bali, Rangda, for example! I don’t really understand how it ended up looking like that, but it’s unique. It’s that tongue, isn’t it. Here I am, only talking about Rangda, but the divine beast Barong is the same.
You have talked about demons from about all over the world.
KK: Yeah. Well, one thing I can say is that myths, scriptures and similar writings are like textbooks regarding one’s way of living. It’s written in them ‘This is what you should do if you fail’ or ‘So-and-so says this’, yet at the same time they also contain lines like ‘If you do bad things, you will be punished’. I have a feeling they needed this in a time when there were no such things as television, for example. Buddhism, too, has a concept of death and rebirth – ‘If you do not succeed in this life, you will in the next one’ – because they obviously did not have counselling at temples. What they had were folk remedies.
Places for spiritual healing?
KK: Right. What is now called ‘sickness of the soul’ would have been considered in the past possession by foxes or demons. When you talk about mental illness, you ask ‘Is it genetic? Is it child abuse?’ or ‘Who’s to blame?’ but if we’re talking about demons, then you can’t blame anyone. The necessity of demons is in that too. In this way, having a medical care system nowadays is both a good and a bad thing.
It is reverse logic, but there is truth to it.
KK: Since this is an age of science and certainty, I would like to get in contact more with demons. As long as humans exist, there is an indestructible link with them. I make games and draw keeping this in mind.
Thank you for today’s answers.
* Kikimora is known for making a squeaky sound in order to obtain food.
** Eight is considered a lucky number in Japan because of its kanji ( 八), whose bottom strokes suggest better things to come in the future (a wider path, etc). The kanji for the Japanese folding fan (末広 suehiro) mean ‘end’ and ‘wide, vast’ and the play on words roughly means ‘vast prosperity without end’
*** The kanji can be read as both hachi and ya.
And in case anyone was interested in a list of Kaneko’s pop culture inspirations mentioned in this interview:
– Kamen Rider
– Gegege no Kitarou
– Cyborg 009
– Jason and the Argonauts directed by Ray Harryhausen
– The Planet of the Apes
– Day of the Dead
– Fist of the North Star
– Mad Max
Unfortunately, I have no idea what the Mi__ drawing is supposed to be.