Xin Nian Kuai Le

Unless I’m horribly wrong and the internet has lied to me again, I may have just wished you a happy new year in Mandarin. Today’s fortune cookie told me I would make a name for myself, which is a fairly decent omen for the upcoming year of the Dragon. As a bonus, I’m up to date on my development timeline (which I will probably post soon so you know I’m not lying!) This week: Gather! (as in collecting my concept images and research, I think) and Experiment!


I’ve spent most of today researching my little wrong-doer Zashiki-warashi to make sure its an appropriate choice for an antagonist. Its characteristics differ depending on the source, but there are a few constant characteristics which seem consistent in all accounts:

Zashiki-warashi takes the form of a child, boy or girl, between the ages of 3 and 12.
It prefers to live in large, old Japanese houses, and its presence is recognised from its little acts of mischief.
While it inhabits a home, the residing family receive great fortune.
Occasionally, a family member (normally a small child) will be able to see the Zashiki-warashi, but according to at least one account, only when it is about to leave.
Once the Zashiki-warashi has left, the family fall to ruin.

The Zashiki-warashi will not necessarily be placed in shrines, but I found this cute little Garden Statue which represents one! It’s though that you can attract a Zashiki-warashi by recognising its presence, so keeping one of these statues may help bring you luck. Due to the variations on the image of this spirit being, there are few visual sources on the internet, although the Hello Kitty at the top of the post is another representation!

For my Zashiki-warashi character, I’ve chosen a girl-ghost as a good adversary for my girl-hero. That way there’s no breach of male-female etiquette when it comes to conflict and in a way, they can relate to each other. Also, by coincidence the majority of the characters currently in working progress have turned out to be male, so this helps balance things out a little! I’ve tried to portray her as a good-natured being with a childish sense of mischief.

I’ve made sure to block out the eyes, as I’ve noticed in Jizou statues there’s never any eye detail. I attempted to convert my design into statue form in the top right hand corner, based on the photo of the statue I found. I somehow managed to make my drawing look more like a Kokeshi Doll than a statue, so I went with this for my colour version. The majority of Kokeshi dolls seem to have much less smiley disposition, so I used the opportunity to create something a little more sinister!
The article in the link suggests that originally the kokeshi dolls represented a “wish for a healthy child”, so my final design may well be a little wooden figure rather than a stone statue. But one with less wonky eyes and fewer graphite smudges:

Heroes & Villains

The Heroine
I’m now much closer to a version of Hana that I’m really happy with. I’ve moved away from focusing on “Western” or “foreign” characteristics, and started to think about the properties of the average tourist! Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to be a tourist for a few years now, so I’ve conjured up the ultimate tourist image using the guidelines of the internet…

  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Shirt
  • Johnny Depp
  • Camera
  • Watch
  • Bag (big)
  • Shorts
  • Sandals
  • Google image search suggests that only overweight people can be tourists
  • Also, the stereotypical tourist only visits warm countries
  • I haven’t managed to apply all these to my final character design, considering the difficulties of converting small details into low-res pixel art (the character sprite will be 32 pixels tall at most). However, it would be interesting to factor some of these aspects into the inventory system- for example when she opens up her bag there could be a camera, sunglasses and a passport, which serve no purpose in the game but show that she is enjoying a sunny holiday in Japan. To apply these characteristics, I started off with a female-shaped template, which I can now use as a basis for any female character within the game. I’ve tried to put her in a few poses in order to create a little personality!

    I used the three of these images to play around with a few minor alternatives, like “shorts or jeans?” “T-shirt or jacket?” and “messenger bag or backpack?”

    (You can also see that I finally realised if I turn the brightness down to about -20 on my scanner then my scans come out a lot nicer!)
    Combine the best aspects of these ideas with the original characteristics of Western Otaku and you have my final* character design:

    *Note that I’m still toying with the idea of adding head-wear. Personally I’m a huge fan of hats, and feel I would definitely wear one on a Japanese holiday!

    The Villain
    At first I wasn’t sure if I actually wanted a “villain” in my game, or whether it would be a sort of natural phenomenon which causes disturbance. With the help of A Geek In Japan and a quick look into Japanese mythology, I’ve realised that I can pretty much combine villain and natural phenomenon together to create my “antagonist” (villain sounds too criminal for what I’m aiming for!).

    In times past, the Japanese believed that Gods lived inside Sakura trees, and just before the rice-sowing season offerings were made under the trees.

    From A Geek In Japan

    With little knowledge about the majority of Japanese mythical beings, I turned to what I knew from anime.

    In Cat Soup, the main character Nyatta travels to the land of the dead to reclaim the half of the soul of his sister, which was taken away by a Jizou. The start of the film shows that the sister Nyako is dying, and the Jizou comes to claim the soul. The soul is split in two when Nyatta tries to pull it back.

    The Jizuo in Cat Soup has a creepy fixed smile. Although it doesn’t have the appearance of a being able to deal real harm to anyone, it seems to be fairly content about its soul-stealing nature. I thought perhaps I could use a similar being for Hanami, however when I researched these beings I realised that they are not regarded as villainous. In fact, in Cat Soup he is simply doing his duty by collecting the soul of a dead child (read the Wikipedia article for more details!). In Japan, statues can be found everywhere. People place children’s hats and bibs onto the statues to provide a blessing to their children.

    A Jizuo statue is also seen in My Neighbour Totoro, when the two girls step into a shrine to protect themselves from the rain.

    While the Jizuo could be considered the main “villain” in Cat Soup, in actual fact he is not a villainous character. In Totoro, the Jizuo statue acts as protection rather than hindrance. I started to think about how I could create a similar scenario, inspired by the idea if Gods living in trees, and spirits who reside in shrines and statues. I wrote up this villain criteria list:

  • Based on, but not identical to, an existing Japanese “creature” from mythology/legend/folklore
  • A being who resides in Sakura trees, but who is recognised with a Shrine elsewhere
  • Not a representation of something “evil”, but perhaps something “forgotten” or “misunderstood” (especially going along with themes of loneliness etc.)
  • Perhaps the act of disturbance is a cry for help, or a punishment for forsaken rituals
  • Whilst researching possible candidates, I discovered the story of Zashiki-warashi, a child-like being who has the power to provide and take away good-fortune. Its child-like nature means that its statues look quite similar to the Jizuo, who is often portrayed as having child-like features. It has a mischievous nature, which could lead to the “disturbance” of Hanami. I haven’t figured out details yet, but for now I’m going to carry on with character design for my “villain”!