The latest book featuring the art by Japanese painter Yoshitaka Amano, isn't an art book but a complete novel not only illustrated, but also conceived and written completely by Amano himself. The story is based upon Buddhist mythology, and follows the warrior Yoshitsugu during the last days of the Samurai, and his discovery of himself as one of the Twelve Divine Generals of Heaven, Zan. His journey takes him not only outside of Japan, but outside of his time and space entirely. as he travels across numerous worlds in search for his true purpose and identity, and to reform the other Divine Generals. Only then will Zan be able to lead the army of light against the darkness that has consumed the heavenly realm, and now threatens to extinguish the entire universe.
Yoshitaka Amano is internationally renowned for his work on the Final Fantasy and Vampire Hunter D franchises, and has illustrated literally hundreds of novels by other authors. But Deva Zan is his first piece of work that focuses on his own story, that has been over a decade in development, and a story that is currently in the works as a fully animated motion picture by Amano's own studio, Deva Loka.
Fans of Amano's work will know how diverse his work can be, and this volume is no different; from the start your greeted with both intricate black and white line-work to minimalistic splashes of vibrant colour, all complimenting the surreal and fantastical story written alongside them.
Though having pretty much focused on characters as the central focus of his work, this book highlights some really interesting environmental pieces that are brilliant at illustrating the surreal worlds and dimensions that the main character Zan is travelling through. These pieces show the hectic nature of the stories journey, as each world feels bursting with vibrancy, even those without inhabitants, with otherwise toned down environments always having some sort of colourful centrepiece to them that either act as a framing tool, or as a drawing point to some important aspect of the story itself. The artwork always stay focused on the books characters though, with the fantastical backgrounds working beautifully in showing off everything from the feudal Japanese wilderness to the cityscapes and bustling metropolis of New York and futuristic worlds.
The character's that are featured in the story of Deva Zan vary from the battle weary samurai that is Zan and his mechanical steed Panther, the lumbering demon guardian Bear, the diminutive dancing Sanfu and the sultry love interest Maria, each one is as different from the last and any others feature in the overall story. Though a lot of Amano's characters often have very feminine features, he does a good job in this story of creating a vast difference between each person. There is also a great difference in how each character is depicted, the demon guardian Bear is first depicted in such vibrant colours of red that he dominates the pages, and you get a great sense of his great size and power. Zan is often drawn with thick brush strokes, to show his identity as an ex-samurai.
The varying use of different media's such as pencil, inks, watercolours and gold leaf create such a vast difference between each page that as well as reading alongside the story you really have to study each picture, to see and take in everything that is going on. This is both the benefit of a story being written by an artist, and a negative aspect; the accompanying artwork illustrates the story more seamlessly than if it was done for another author as Amano knows exactly what he wants to depict. But a downside to that, is that if the story becomes a bit confusing (and it can do in places) the artwork can become a bit abstract, and doesn't make things clear to understand.
Those that know Amano's work, will know that his work always sees to have a feel of fluidity and movement, and this book really highlights that. There are some really intense action elements within this book, and the artwork alongside it really gives you a great feeling of action and excitement... you can really tell that Amano has been planning on adapting this story on to the big screen. This is another dividing point; the varying angles and perspectives that each picture is depicted makes each one interesting to look at, and gives a great sense of movement and action. The downside to this though, is that it can sometimes appear too abstract and the positioning obscure, especially when a particular piece is quite colourful, it can be quite overbearing if your not accustomed to Amano's surreal style of work.
Overall, Deva Zan is definitely a book for fans of Amano's art as well as his imagination, the 200 plus new pieces of art he has worked on over the last ten years specifically for this project are wondrous and awe-inspiring, and in themselves showcase his varying styles and technique as a painter and artist. I would say however, this book isn't the best introduction to Amano, as this style of book that is written by him as well, is a first and i can see how it can be confusing to those who are new to his style of work; even as a long time fan of his, i had to make sure to examine some of his pictures alongside the story in detail to get a better grasp of what was going on at that specific point. Some pieces are also quite abstract, and to casual browsers may appear to be 'contemporary' while on closer inspection, each picture is relevant to the overall book.
As a final word, id say this is a fantastic piece of work, and a must for those who want to invest themselves in a unique story and illustrated world, that is steeped both in traditional Buddhist mythology and surrealist fantasy and science fiction... If this is your first step into Amano's world however, dont expect it to be an easy journey. If you have the time to invest yourself into his work though, you may find yourself lost in a world that is unlike any other.