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zxdvas

the art history of VN?

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I have always maintained the view that to envisage and project a 3D scenario onto a 2D surface a valuable skill, a skill that has been criminally overlooked in the VN community.

I have tried to trace the art history from the early 2000s, a few series is a good reference point of what art in that time looks like, such as Memories off, To Heart and DC Da Capo. One of the pinnacle is ef tales in 2006 (which is by artist of DC btw). The rise of modern moege such as lump of sugar shows that VN with less impressive plot need to have eye-catching heroine to sell well. This have shifted the art focus from realism to impressionism in designing heroines.

I have viewed the design of Sion in Eden* and Mashiro Iro Symphony in 2009 as forerunner of a new art movement that continues to the present. Other earlier examples include Kimi e Okuru and Dracu-Riot! in 2012, Nyan Cafe Macchiato and Cocoro@Function! in 2013, Majo Koi Nikki, Koi ga Saku Koro Sakura Doki and Kami no Ue no Mahoutsukai in 2014. You could potentially include Primal x Hearts, Otome domain and nekopara into this movement. Recent notable examples include Blade x Bullet and Can Can Bunny Premiere 3. With the departure of Hinoue Itaru, the leading artist of KEY since Kanon, in 2016, KEY was forced to employ new artist for work Summer Pockets. Among them is Izumi Tsubasu, the artist of Mashiro Iro Symphony and Koi ga Saku Koro Sakura Doki. I don't think it is by chance they hired an artist from Palette, she must have made a name for herself. The fact that an artist specialising in moege is hired by KEY for one of their major product is quite an achievement in itself and a great triumph of its art style.

As for the exact reason why it happened in early 2010s, I have located two reasons. One is the usage of digital painting programs such as SAI released in 2008 or adobe illustrator. I am not a professional artist but these programs have made digital gradient, opacity adjustment and diffuse lighting much easier. Another reason is a new type of artists that began their career on pixiv, such as Rubi-sama. They may have developed their own art style over the years by drawing Dojinshi before being commissioned by a VN company.

I could go on to talk about the defining features of this kind of art style but I stop for now. I wish someone more acquainted with western art history or Japanese art, or is an artist himself would share his expertise as my search for an artistic origin proved unfruitful.

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I'm a bit confused because aside from individual artists, i don't think there is anything unique on "the art history of VNs". Aren't they just mirroring the art styles of the anime of the time while mirroring drawing techniques and tools from anime/manga-related material of the time? I'm completely ignorant on the subject, but that's what it seems to me.

Unless you're talking about sprite and background dynamics, in which case i think there are too few cases with enough effort put into those to make a coherent timeline (it seems that it was pretty much primitive until Kusarihime and Muv-Luv happened, then kinda peaked with ef and eden*).

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Well there has been a movement towards cute girls in general in all otaku media, I mean just think about the amount of cute girls does (something) anime there are. As for why it seems to start early 2010 I would say probably due to the influnces of Kyoani series such as Haruhi, lucky star and K-on which showed that many otaku loves cute girls and that having cute girls in the otaku media can bring in a lot of money.

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It would be best if you had a solid baseline, rather than chasing after the peak of each era.  I'd suggest taking a look at the differences in styles between games with all-ages versions and those without; taking a look at a gameplay VN every three years since 2000 (Eushully is a good reference point for this); sampling Key from each era;  AXL from each era (their essential style hasn't changed, but there are significant if subtle technical differences as the years have passed); journeys into the dark (Akatsuki Works Black briefly went into the wide blue yonder with metallic-looking eyes and slightly different character designs); and oddballs like Silky's Plus that pursue a non-standard general style for non-nukige VNs.  Companies that don't necessarily stand out for visual quality but have maintained an industry baseline throughout their existence, like Pulltop, are also good reference points.  Just looking at the difference between Haruuru and Pulltop's more recent works is pretty enlightening about how the differences in the tools available to VN companies has made a difference in the artwork. 

Another issue you might take note of is that art quality across the industry hasn't improved significantly since 2010, save for a few companies that can afford to put six figures into their art budget for each game.  Indeed, it can be argued that the Japanese VN industry is currently suffering from the law of diminishing returns in terms of financial investment in artwork, as the tendency in modern times has been for 'easier' character designs and fewer non-H CGs in the most-released genre of non-nukige VNs (charage), a fact I've noted repeatedly in various posts, if in an off-hand manner. 

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