Character Backstory: Who is she?
2D character design was one of the main skills I developed through research, finding sources of inspirations, sketching out different designs and finally developing a detailed backstory for them. In this project, I decided to create a character based in the Edo period and Japan’s culture surrounding Yurei, a supernatural phenomenon documented in different stories during that time. The main source of inspiration for this character design comes from the video game: Like A Dragon Ishin, a Yakuza JRPG spinoff set in the Bakamatsu period (The late years of Edo). The character designs in the game reflect their counterparts from the franchise but in terms of personalities they kept the original personalities of the real life people the characters are based off of.
Since I’ve already made a non-cannon character for the Yakuza franchise, Mimi, I wanted to try and redesign her in order for her to fit with the Ishin universe.
Originally, her character was going to be a housekeeper or a shrine maiden but after researching superstition culture at the time, Mimi’s design went for a more darker horror approach. So I changed her personality, character backstory and name from her counterpart: naming her Maki Akimoto.
Historically in the Bakamatsu period, society became turbulent as there was a social, political and economic debate about whether to open the boarders to foreigners. The country was split in half and assassinations between the two political sides weren’t uncommon. This also meant that people were much more paranoid and skeptical which plays a large part in Maki’s backstory.
Maki’s family owned an Inari shrine near the Tosa region. Their shrine was often known for bringing good luck and protection to the town, often providing exorcism or cleansing services for those who need it.
They also sold good luck charms and would hold ceremonies / funerals for the townsfolk. Maki’s the youngest of three older siblings and doesn’t know too much about the outside world as she was never allowed to go outside for her own safety.
One day, she fell in love with one of the patrons who happened to be secretly part of the Tosa loyalist party. Eventually the two agreed to marry each other and travel around the country however, those dreams quickly fell short.
After her partner left for the week, several bodies were discovered in different areas in Tosa. Whilst people would normally suspect these murders to be part of the long list of political assassinations, their bodies were disfigured beyond repair and the victims were long time investors of the Akimoto shrine. And so out of sheer paranoia and panic, the townfolk burned down the shrine, trapping the family members along with it. No survivors came out of the fire and Maki died at the age of 25, just days before she was supposed to get married.
Out of revenge, grief and anger , her eldest sister came back as a vengeful spirit along with her younger sibling. The shrine was eventually rebuilt by the spirits as a safe haven for other Yokai and Yurei and since then they lure in victims to sacrifice for the kitsune.
As a Yurei, Maki is the least dangerous one out of the shrine family, tricking her victims by scaring them into submission. Due to the circumstances of her death, she covers her eyes with a beautiful silk cloth and she gets upset if anyone were to try and remove it. The only way for her to move on is for her to be reunited with her lost love. She doesn’t have a cognitive awareness of the things her eldest sister actually does.
With this knowledge, several design sketches were created:
Maki’s hair, whilst messy, is still kept up neatly in buns in order to prevent her hair from brushing against her face. Her kimono is loose and ragged, emphasizing her ghostly appearance.
Using lighter colours in her clothes gives Maki a ghostly complexion as well as symbolising purity, life and elegance. Her appearance is based off of the Yuki-Onna also known as the snow woman, whos seen as motherly but dangerous, fitting with with Maki’s personality.
By white to the colour scheme, this would help contrast with any blood stains that could get onto her clothes. It creates a perfect difference in her purity and her family’s violent nature.
The Kimono also has a continuous Koi pattern that occasionally moves depending on her mood. The Koi pattern was chosen in remembrance of her partner’s love for Koi fish. And finally, her makeshift eye cover that was ripped from the ends of her kimono as protection.
A moodboard was also made in order to get a better understanding on where her design ideas came from.
However, here I will go more in depth on why I picked a particular stylised option.
With my 2D art, a lot of it is based off the anime art style:
This style was developed from consuming anime and playing video games, my main inspiration also including Vocaloid due to their use of various models and characters over the years.
So I thought, by giving this character a stylised design and as someone who hasn’t had much experience in 3D sculpting, that this meant that I could to understand and develop my 3D modelling skills with a style I was most familiar with. In addition to this, having that contrast between a cute style and a dark backstory gives the character much more intrigue by going against the conventional but slightly overused realistic horror style; instead choosing a cute, innocent look.
From a games design perspective, giving her the cute but bold anime style means that she’s not a threat to the player but rather a guide or a helpful NPC, maybe even an protagonist to her own side story. In a game, her story could revolve around trying to find her lost loved one in order to pass on and as a reward the player gets her eye cover to boost their defense etc.
And with these designs, I started to translate her 2D design into 3D.