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Siren 2 Maniacs: Yoshiaki Yamaguchi Interview

Giving form to the "substance" within the scenario - that is the purpose of the archive items

Designer: Yoshiaki Yamaguchi
Joined the project on Siren 2, mainly heading up work on the archive items. His work was not undertaken at the keyboard, but rather a battle with utility knives and glue.

-- You were in charge of the making of the archive items that appear in Siren 2, is that correct?

Yamaguchi: Yes. I'm a member of the graphics department, so usually my job would be making CG images or creating textures, but this time around my job was completely different to that. While everyone around me was talking about the CG memory, working on cutting and pasting, my desk was the only one surrounded by all kind of props and materials, so you couldn't really tell what was what. Things would overflow and I'd say, "Sorry, I'll tidy it up now..." (laughs)

-- You only joined the team with Siren 2, so what were you doing up until now?

Yamaguchi: I originally wanted to become a manga artist, but I spent some time at an anime production company (Studio 4°C) and then switched to the game industry.

-- How did you feel when you were first informed that you would be in charge of the archives?

Yamaguchi: What I'm fundamentally always thinking is that I want to grow. I don't mean my job skills - I mean in general, in all kinds of ways. For that reason, I didn't mind what my job was. Though I had no idea what the role of "head of archives" entailed... (laughs)

-- What was your work like right after you were appointed?

Yamaguchi: I just made lots of things - I don't actually remember what the very first thing I made was, but I think that was the time when I made [No.002] Ryuko Tagawa's Diary. I took the thing I had made, just as I'd been told, to art director [Isao] Takahashi to show it to him, and he said, "That's totally wrong!" (laughs). In short, there were no feelings of the characters or scenario-related meaning to it at all. That's when I understood what a tough job it was. I realised that if I wanted to move forwards, I'd have to seriously read into the scenario and interpret the "substance" within it. For example, it's obvious that, if you're drawing a child's picture, you adopt the mindset of a child, so I had to imagine things like what their home environment was like. What shocked me at the time was the head of background and scenario, [Naoko] Sato, covering her hands with red paint and suddenly slapping them down on the cover to add lots of bloodstains. It was so delicate and detailed compared to my CG work that the dynamicity of it came as a surprise... I thought, "Oh, so this is how it's done!" She made it look like a blood-covered woman had collapsed on top of the notebook. At the time, I wondered if this was what it meant to draw a picture. But the reason I originally wanted to become a manga artist was because I was drawn in by the idea of being able to decide upon the camera angles, scenario, characters, background - everything - by myself. I really love thinking about those kinds of things, so the archive work suddenly began to pique my interest. I started the process of thinking up all kinds of tricks to use...

-- Did you do most of the archive creation by yourself?

Yamaguchi: As standard I work alone, but there are some things I can't do by myself. For example, there are things like [No.055] Da Gama where we had someone who does actual publication design handle that. When you look at things created by pros in their field, you really feel like you're learning from it. I made the newspaper articles included with several archive items myself, but at first it was different from the norm. The layout and overall colour of newspapers changes with the generations. I put old newspapers and recent ones side by side and compared their differences in composition, without really knowing how this would help with the next step at all... (laughs)

-- Aside from paper items like newspapers and photos, there are also lots of items like pendants and hair ornaments.

Yamaguchi: Things like the hair ornament were props that we used at the time we were shooting the actors as models for the characters, but there are some amongst them that caused real headaches - things like [No.072] Solid Gold King. Initially I was told that they wanted a gold-coloured shogi piece and I thought, alright, how am I meant to make that? (laughs) I thought I should just buy a shogi piece and apply gold leaf to it, but when I went to consult a professional they told me that it was impossible for someone who didn't know what they were doing. On top of all of the tricky parts like static electricity, I'd have to carve the "king" mark into the piece, so it wasn't doable at all. So, when I did try it myself, a little did stick to the surface, but it didn't work after all. The last trick I had left was colouring it using gold paint. The problem, though, is that art paint won't give it the lustrous finish of pure gold, so I had to polish and glaze it... After the hard work was over and it was finished, I took it to show it to them and when it was time to actually use it they said, "We're going to dirty this a bit." (laughs) I had worked so hard to get it glossy and made the gold leaf man angry, and now that it was done it ended up being used covered in dirt.

-- I was impressed by how [No.060] Tsukasa's Collar also has real dirt and scratches on it.

Yamaguchi: I went to buy a collar at a shop for that, but there were too many characters in Tsukasa's name to engrave it into the tag, so they refused. We had no option but to retouch the image and add in the name... I also had to think about what kind of marks are left on a collar when it passes under a fence. It's the kind of work where if you just peeked over you'd wonder what I was meant to be doing.

-- So adding scuffs and dirt is just as important as creating the items.

Yamaguchi: In a way, adding the dirt and making things look worn might be the funnest part of the job. Maybe it's because it lets me release all of the stress that builds up from all of the delicate work. I do all kinds of things, like weathering them or going to the park and stamping on them (laughs). Maybe the process of making a prop look more realistic by such comparatively simple means makes me happy, too... But the method changes depending on the item, so you have to pay attention to each thing, like the newspapers.

-- There are also aged items in there, which seem like they would have been a lot of trouble to prepare.

Yamaguchi: With things like, for example, [No.043] Tomoe Ohta's Diary, all you need to do is buy something with a kind of old-looking design, but the really problematic cases are ones like [No.047] Ferry Passenger's Video Tape. I was told to use a slightly aged-looking video tape, and it had to be a Betamax (laughs). No matter how hard I looked, I couldn't find one. I spoke to an acquaintance of mine at the time (editor's note: she is now Mr. Yamaguchi's wife) about how I was stuck, and she told me that she had one at her parents' house. It definitely takes a lot of hard work to get the materials together.

-- On the other hand, I also get the feeling that some of the items let us see the staff's playful nature. One that made the biggest impression on me was [No.049] Shigeru Fujita's Apology. I heard that it was handwritten by the producer, Mr. Fujisawa.

Yamaguchi: In a sense, it's like having the most distinguished person on the team write a letter of apology (laughs). He happened to be passing by as I was working, so I asked him if he had a minute and would do it. When he asked me if it was alright I said, "No, the image isn't quite right..." and had him rewrite it over and over... But having the staff participate like that has a surprisingly large effect, in the sense of both being in it together, but laso the way that just having them draw a little sketch gives it a totally different sense of realism. There are lots of ways I want to try out drawing things, but sometimes you can come up with pictures or characters you otherwise wouldn't even imagine. It's kind of a strange way of putting it, but sometimes there are things I could never manage to draw so terrible...

-- In a way, do you find it difficult to draw bad pictures yourself?

Yamaguchi: Take [No.022] Shu Mikami's Drawing, for example. Naturally I drew it under the assumption that it's a child's drawing, but when I showed it to Takahashi he said it was too good. Then I tried drawing it with the pen in my left hand, and he told me to try a bit harder (laughs). So then I tried thinking about what it was like to be a child, and started to see what children's pictures were like. When adults draw pictures, they unconsciously omit things to some level, but everything is brand new to children, so they're aware of everything, putting all of their effort into each and every line they draw. If you look at the overall picture, the balance is lost. That's how children naturally draw, but when adults try to do it, it takes real effort... But it was interesting work, and I really learned from it.

-- Do you have any regrets about your work on this game?

Yamaguchi: What I had in mind was just improving the response. The act of making a single archive item to me is like trying to grasp something elusive. First of all you have to create the idea yourself, or you won't be able to figure out how to reach it. The creation of archives involves demands from all kinds of angles, like background and design, so it's hard to come up with something that's perfect from the very start. What I thought I had to do was present everything I thought of, including the things I thought were hopeless, from an early stage and use the opinions I got as my feedback as I went along.

-- Were the illustrations for [No.017] Mermaid Princess Picture Book and [No.063] Yamijima Amusement Park Pamphlet done by you as well?

Yamaguchi: Yes. I wanted to be a manga illustrator, so for a long time now I've done things like imitate Disney or try drawing Fist of the North Star, copying things instead of practising. This means that I love drawing pictures of all different kinds. I picture something like the person's personal touch and habits as I draw. Things like, "This person would stop the pen here," or, "This is their trademark when they draw circles." I used signboards and things like that from real old amusement parks as reference for the Yamijima Amusement Park pamphlet. Sometimes they're made up of impossible lines you'd never even imagine. Seeing pictures like that has an impact the second you see them.

-- From talking to you, I sense a kind of artisan's attention to detail, like you strive to overcome the boundaries of your work...

Yamaguchi: With Siren, I think that its main characteristic is the depth of the scenario. When I realised that it would be a letdown were that depth not to be reflected in the archive, I felt something like an impending sense of doom. When I was working I did things like read Akira Kurosawa's book, and he really didn't do things halfway. For example, when building a set of a destroyed building, rather than making something to look like it was broken he would actually make a building and then destroy that. Reading it left a really deep impression on me, or rather taught me something. Interestingly, when I actually made archive items with that mindset it was like they were giving something back - they turned out quite well.

-- You said that when you joined the Siren 2 development team and were appointed head of archives you thought you had "grown" in many ways. Now that your work is done, what do you think?

Yamaguchi: I really have learned so much. There are 100 archives in total, but it felt like I saw something new with every single archive I made. I'm also interested in whether there's anything I can apply my newfound skills in prop-making to (laughs).

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