Ghastly Surrealism of Yoshitaka Amano in Anime

August 12, 2009

angel's egg

There are plenty of online materials on Yoshitaka Amano, but not as much on anime designed/created by him. As well as recommending few titles that he had his hands on, this post will look at their screenshots and Amano’s stylistic elements that make his work, for me, ghastly surreal.

One can not talk about the characters of Amano without first mentioning their unique facial characteristics. It’s one of those melancholic faces that you can take one look and instantly recognise the Amano’s hands behind it. Their skins are so pale and white like a vampire, with lips firmly closed as if they have no need for words. One wonders if they are emotionless and lifeless, as their faces express no particularly strong emotions such as anger, fear or sadness. And yet their eyes are sharp and unfaltering, as if piercing through one’s soul. In the absence of emotion and life in their face, all the energy is focused around these silently menacing eyes, emanating that sense of ghastly melancholy. I think what Coleridge once said in his poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner best portrays Amano’s characters:

Her skin was as white as leprosy

The Night-mare Life-in-death was she

Who thicks man’s blood with cold


Ghastly characters of Tori no Uta and Vampire Hunter D

Amano openly admitted to have been influenced by Gustav Klimt and you can see his influence on Amano’s use of rich, decorative colours and textures. And yet Amano has found a different use for Klimt’s techniques. Whereas Klimt’s mixture of gold and lavish materials made his paintings vibrant and luxuriously dazzling, many of Amano’s designs in anime are like his watercolour illustrations, which I find it to be of more subdued and enchantingly ethereal tone.


Left: 1001 Nights, Right: The Kiss


The girl and wolf in Tori no Uta. Many of Amano's illustrations feature a woman with an animal.

I also like his elegant wavy lines that seems to have been inspired from natural forms, such as tree roots and those long, flowing brushes, like how the architects Sullivan and Gaudi abstracted natural forms to shape their floral decorations and structural forms. One only needs to watch Angel’s Egg to see his absolutely captivating organic lines animated on screen.

angel's eggsnapshot20090209142528snapshot20090209142523

Amano is a man of great imagination. Visions one only sees in dreams. He draws characters and objects, set or being transformed in an unexpectedly bizarre, but alluring manner. And that is in my opinion, the essence of surrealism: to be distrubed by confronting the unexpected (like an egg sprouting like a tree) and yet be allured by its seductive beauty. This is the ghastly surrealism in Amano’s works.





Fantascope Tylostoma is another 'picture anime' (ga-nime) created by Amano, where he attempted to animate that subtle movement of water colour painting. I liked the touch of those subtle movements but the limited budget makes it inferior to the brilliance of Angel's Egg. It's also too monochrome with very little play of contrast and takes away that ghastly erotic quality.

So if you have any fascination for Amano’s style, you may want to check out few titles mentioned in this post.


12 Responses to “Ghastly Surrealism of Yoshitaka Amano in Anime”

  1. 2DT Says:

    Angel’s Egg was personally a little too out-there for me, but I like what you have to say about Amano. Also important, I think, is the cultural hybridity of his style: Klimt is definitely there, but there’s also the obvious influence of the East Asian brush art of sumi-e.

  2. animekritik Says:

    I didn’t realize Vampire Hunter was designed by Amano but it makes sense. His work is proof that whole Art Nouveau can still be employed to good (and beautiful purpose). Very organic, very melancholy.

    The sense I get from him is that there’s a heck of a lot within his world and he’s just not going to tell me what it is. This mystery is alluring and incredibly sad at the same time!

    btw, the Mariner is by Coleridge IIRC đŸ™‚

  3. gaguri Says:


    I wrote about possible meanings behind Angel’s Egg before, which you can check out if you want to go deeper. But I think it’s perfectly fine to enjoy Angel’s Egg just for its atmosphere and beautiful art, or at least that’s what I did at first haha.

    I think you’re right in that there’s bit of Japanese aesthetics mixed into his works. I don’t think I can identify everything about his style, but did my best to describe why it seems ghastly surreal to me.


    Oh animekritik…Vampire Hunter is like his signature work, you should know better!

    …is what I would say if I didn’t mix up T.S. Elliot with Coleridge. Thanks for the heads up, how embarrassing x_x (so much for high school poetry).

  4. kadian1364 Says:

    1001 Nights is his only work I’ve watched, though I’ve seen bits of Vampire Hunter. It was interesting in a mostly good way, but I think I need to space out the Amano works and gradually work through them. I still need to build up a tolerance for the stuff. If I jump in too quick I think I’ll just drown.

  5. gaguri Says:

    I wouldn’t expect one to run these all down in one go, certainly not =D

    Hmm perhaps I should have done a brief summary of each anime to serve as a better recommendation. If anything, I suppose Angel’s Egg is the only you need to watch. The others are more, hmm, for only those fans of Amano, but I really do think Angel’s Egg is something any anime fan should give a go someday.

  6. vendredi Says:

    The one thing about Amano that always seems to set his work apart is the hair; always perpetually fine, filligreed, and almost always very very long. Even on some of his shorter haired designs, like the buzzcut military men in the early Front Mission games, the hair is still very find and individual strands are rendered with distinctness – to the point where he can create art nouveau patterns simply with hair, in the absence of clothing.

  7. gaguri Says:

    You describe his hair very well. Only reason I’m bit hesistant to put Art Nouveau label on it is because, although their overall form is very Art Nouveau, microscopic details of each individual hair is more intuitive and irregular than ‘clean’, and can see them sort of ‘wriggle’ out of curves almost like branching out from tiny roots. I suppose this is another case of him taking an inspiration from something and turning it into his own style.

  8. Milkymagic Says:

    Amano’s art is fantastic. I have an Angel’s Egg artbook from him, and a general collection of illustrations I got from a book store some odd years ago. It seems like his style is very original, and easy to identify as a result. Truly one of the greats!

  9. gaguri Says:

    Heh, I have an artbook on Angels egg myself (I think you know already though). Amano’s style is certainly original, taking my definition of originality into account.

  10. qdfsqdfsdf Says:

    I have to thank you for this blog! Keep on it’s awesome.

  11. gaguri Says:

    Damn a comment that got ignored way back in January. Thanks! (if you’re not spambot…and still reading -__-)

  12. Sara Says:

    too much read ><!! i wann ask something!! if u know about him well?

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