For the most avid of Rockman fans, "Hi-GO!" needs no introduction. He is one of, if not the most popular and proficient artist within the Japanese Rockman fandom. From art books and magazine covers to fan-made CD albums and everything in-between, Hi-GO!'s unquestionable talent has blessed the Rockman community for more than a decade.
Rockman Corner had the privilege to conduct an in-depth interview with Hi-GO! cover topics such as his craft, the current state of the Rockman community in Japan, and his passion for the Rockman series. He was also generous enough to give us an exclusive scoop on a secret project that he's currently working, too.
Grab a cup of coffee – a long interview awaits you after the break!
(The interview was originally conducted in Japanese. Thanks to Sidier for helping me with the translation)
Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. Can you introduce yourself?
My name is “Hi-GO!”. I normally do illustration, character design and art direction as a freelancer. I’m working on a project right now, too. Before I began this work I already did fan-works, mainly Rockman illustrations, as a hobby, as well as making independent works.
The “R-style” series that’s being asked in one of questions is one of those, and currently there’s 11 published issues.
Who are some of your favorite artists and sources of inspiration?
I picked up a few creators. When lined up, though, I think most of them influenced more in the designs field rather than the illustrations:
·Junya Ishigaki [Xenogears, VGundam, GundamW]
He influenced me a lot when I was a child. I think he’s the main influence of me liking mechanical designs and wanting to work on this field.
・Kenki Fujioki [MEDABOTS, ADVANCE OF Ζ]
I met him when I was growing up, and he still influences. His technique of drawing deformed mecha with a high density, and the basis of digital coloring still remain within me.
・Hisashi Hirai [GundamSEED, s.CRY.ed]
His character design and animation influenced me. His universal methodology of organized character design as his unique proportions and team making would eventually influence me a lot.
・Yoji Shikawa [MGS, ZOE]
His character design and illustrations using brushes and pencils impressed me. I did not image it allowed for so much freedom. Sense not bound to gravity, it still keeps my heart in a tight grip.
・Yasuhiro Nightow [TRIGUN, GUNGRAVE]
His works made me interested in guns. His nonsensical worlds and gun actions added more freedom to my heart.
・Eiichi Shimizu x Tomohiro Shimoguchi [LINEBARRELS OF IRON, ULTRAMAN]
It’s thanks to both of them I’m able to talk about heroes and justice. They did influence me a lot in mecha design and character designs, but the stories they take part in and the ideas poured into them are thing I really agree with.
When it comes to the making of ideas, I often work in character designing so I basically begin by reading the project. I also consider the costs. And then I bring out ideas that can be contributed to the project. And when doing character designing, I often set a common unified motif or theme such as playing cards or chess. Of course, I only choose motifs that fit the project itself.
Ultimately I focus on keeping watch of the project consistency. I consider the spreading and the end of those things I’ve created. On the other hand, if I were to become involved with the project, I tend to be on the lookout for the current state of society.
What people wish, what they need to be satisfied, what’s lacking out there… I pile up such analyses and search for keywords to compile them as well as motifs. The Joaquin Phoenix version of the “JOKER” movie has been a recent success; that’s an example of such an archetype.
What kind of tools do you use to make your illustrations?
In the past I used to take a sketch pad with me as well as sharp pencils to draw the composition memo and the line drawings, to then add colors through Photoshop in the PC.
Kneaded Eraser is my favorite tool for hand-drawing, it doesn’t create the residue of a typical eraser and allows for delicate representations; it’s truly a wonderful tool.
Nowadays I draw with Clip Studio on an iPad, transfer the data to the PC and edit it with Photoshop to then finish it up.
Do you have any aspirations or desire to work for Capcom someday?
I always thought of wanting to do something together with Capcom, ever since I was a child. I’ve cooperated a bit in a project you ask me about further ahead, but there’s also tons of things I can’t talk about here.
Regarding my aspirations and Rockman, my talk is going to be pretty long, but, personally I think that multimedia and individual level work should be spread more across the world. Those that I’ve met through my Rockman activities might know it, but I do actively spread media, by “using” illustrations, garage kits, CDs, events, goods or many types of media. I do this while focusing on the interlocking of mixed media.
Ultimately, I use mixed media as many entrances from which to assemble others, have good experiences and memories, and I wish that it becomes a means to leave one’s work for the future (generations).
Art of all kinds must be supported by others to remain preserved, so you could say that my ultimate goal is to create an archive of sorts. I want to do things that future generations consider to be good intended. In that aspect I consider that the Rockman Corner’s activities is a very good point indeed.
When did you become a fan of the Rockman series?
I remember that I began to take notice around the time Rockman 4 was released since there was more media exposure. I began to see the games often in stores.
I began actually playing when I was 6 years old, with Rockman 5. I started from the Gravity Man stage so I think that my first play must’ve been pretty acrobatic. But I was able to beat the boss nevertheless.
I had no game console at home, but a friend always had a NES on his home, and (the games popularity) was to the level that you could affirm that there’s no-one that doesn’t have any Rockman games.
The good aspects of Rockman is that, compared to Mario, you can attack from a distance, it’s a lives system, it’s easy to trial and error during a play, and there’s healing and support items which relaxes you when you’re playing; I think those are the strongest points. I was confident that even a beginner could complete the game.
Given that experience, we bought a SNES because the parents suggested it, and that’s when I began to catch up with the games such as Rockman X and X2, the newest one at the moment.
I spend each day with Rockman and it was so fun. He was popular at school too so we were always talking about him between friends. Looking back at those times, they were indeed wonderful times.
Which is your favorite Rockman Series and character?
This is a hard one. Rather than a series as a whole, I’ve got my own memories and reviews of each game so I often get confused about it. And so I’ll try to sort them by categories instead.
・Scenario: Rockman EXE 1
I think it’s a perfect scenario as a Rockman reboot. I think it was able to greatly expand the way Rockman is.
・Experience: Rockman DASH
Being able to experience the very first Rockman open world, and was constantly checking what you could do in that world, there was so much freedom
・Graphics: Rockman X Command Mission
I hesitated a lot but I think that, in terms of graphics, Command Mission deserves a mention. The background are really good. I think we haven’t seen such great and detailed backgrounds for a long time, have we?
・System: Starforce 3
It has a lot of systems I like but the one I liked most during gameplay was the “Noise” system. You seen a strategic PoV but once you understand that, the system’s appropriate makes sure to make the game feel exciting, or so I noticed. And the “Finalize” is so cool, too.
・Music: Rockman X4
I choose it because it makes me feel excited. You can value other titles by music, but the game music in X4 matches perfectly and I liked how they remain in your ears.
・World: Rockman Zero
I like the Zero series a lot, but when you ask me what part of them it is, I reached the conclusion that it’s the world. The scenario, the settings, the graphics and the music are all put together so I had to choose it for all that it contains.
Here’s the characters;
・Cool: Forte (EXE), Super Forte (8)
I think that the EXE Forte, by wearing a cloak, has a very good character design, already fulfilled, but the Super Forte in Rockman 8 is also very cool. Especially the silhouette.
・Cute: Roll (8)
My life might’ve been altered by meeting Roll before puberty. And I ended up loving blonde girls. Of course, this is only in terms of fictional characters.
・Longing: Zero (Rockman Zero)
He’s a character that’s like beliefs having taken up form. I like his looks but I also like how he’s on the inside and how he’s lived through.
I gave it a lot of thought, but while X is cool, he often feels beautiful too and so that’s how I rate him. His design is so complete and nothing on him is wasted.
From all the illustrators or character designers that have worked in the Rockman franchise (games and manga), who is your favorite and why?
The origin of everything. He taught the basis of drawing and character design. He now calls himself a concepter, and he indeed builds strong concepts which lead to IPs and characters that last for several years; I think he’s a great person indeed.
・Hideki Ishikawa [PS Rockman, 8, Battle and Chase]
I think that he’s the one who built the new stand of the Rockman illustrations. I think it’s thanks to him that there’s been a great update with the transition to digital, interpretation of designs, use of colors and the drawings.
・Shinsuke Komaki [EXE, SF]
He’s an apprentice of Mr. Hideki. He keeps (Hideki’s) traces but can make them look cooler than the usual. He survived the “savannah” that the Capcom Design Room is referred as and his skill is clear enough seeing the success of EXE and Ryuusei (SF). He normally doesn’t show it on public but he has very firm beliefs.
His straightness can probably be felt through his illustrations.
・ Haruki Suetsugu [X5-6]
He was credited as “SENSEI” in the past, meaning “teacher” but he’s indeed like a teacher. He has the merit of having updated the designs and illustrations of the X series.
A friend told me that he was considered the last conscience of Capcom, but it’s thanks to his guidance that I’ve been able to improve my abilities for my works.
He’s a wonderful graphic designer who has very precise instructing and reputation.
・Tatsuya Yoshikawa [X8, MHX]
Apart from his worn on “Breath of Fire”, I think he can be called a secret leading figure of the Rockman series, who left us with impacting designs like Wolf Sigma and Kaizer Sigma. And the upgrade of visuals in X7, X8 and MHX wouldn’t have been possible without him.
He was very skilled at information control, and I considered him more of a designer than an illustrator, and his finesse can be told by looking at the X8 character designs, it’s calibrated in terms of informational amount so that the 3 protagonists stand together (in the pictures).
・Toru Nakayama [Zero, ZX]
In an artistic sense, he’s like Mr. Yoshikawa, but he also stands out for his artwork that fuses with the world (of the games).
He makes illustrations with a rough touch, to avoid trimming down the impulse of the outline, and the illustrations composition are very pictorial, and his key visuals have secrets to them that you notice after you’ve cleared the game.
I don’t know much of it is part of his calculations, but I think that it’s like a divine entity was lodging in his artworks that include the world (of their games).
What is your opinion about Keiji Inafune and the work he did with the franchise before he left Capcom?
I’ve seen texts by him as well as interview and videos but to sum it up, I guess you could say he’s been the driving force that made Capcom this big? Because a lot is built upon the legacies he’s left behind.
Of course, he must’ve also failed at many other challenges; his texts explain that prioritizes administration decisions before everything else, so I think he’s kept challenging himself to contribute to the business’ profits. I’ve talked with some of his former juniors and they spoke good of him. And he’s also made several contributions, no?
He also retired after doing all of that so all I have for him is gratitude and no complaints. Since I’ve been able to have great experiences and moments thanks to him. I only hope that the fans, Capcom and society properly value his accomplishments.
Apart from what I’ve stated above, I’d personally like to play a sequel of Mighty No. 9.
What is the current state of the Rockman community in Japan?
I think there’s tons of them but their numbers are lower to the amounts in the US or Europe I feel ashamed that we Japanese barely contributed to the sales of Rockman 11, not even a 10th of them.
But, while being active as a fan and working on work, I’ve felt that new fans are constantly increasing. Apart from what Capcom does, I think that it’s also due to how the Internet allows these existing fans to show their love for the products.
You, yourself like what someone else likes. Just like how I felt in the past.
Do you follow what overseas Rockman fans do (fanart, videos, news reporting)?
Yes, of course. I do check on them. This website (Rockman Corner) is one of them, too. MMKB and Sprites INC have always been of great help to me. I feel envious at how there’s so many artworks and game projects. Since it’s complicated for a group project to take place in Japan.
What would you say are the main differences between Rockman fans in Japan and overseas?
This will be a slightly complicated topic. This is but my personal impression, but I feel that Japan combines love and reliance for the works into a single thing. I felt that when talking to overseas fans.
The fans overseas feel like they’re independent in mental terms. And that they put effort into their activities. I don’t feel a bending in their minds. Like they grew up to be straightforward. Japan is the exact opposite. There’s a lot of ways to express it, but I feel like it’s little birds that open their mouths waiting for food, and they don’t grow up.
There’s many cases that their minds, when it comes to Rockman, are locked into their childhood. That can also apply to other contents that they’ve played when they were children. That they wish for it to be something constantly given to them.
On the other hand, overseas fans often take action themselves when they feel unsatisfied or there’s some new developments. A game company once told me that my style is very overseas-like. So it’d seem that a fan like me is a minority within Japan. But, I think that those who became fans when they were already adult behave a bit differently. There’s a lot of women who are spontaneously active, and leave behind some works of their own in one form or another.
They all have different contents so you can’t describe them in a single word, yet I feel you can feel some type of independence in parts of them. On the other hand, you can partly see their reliance on the characters, and the strongest aspect seems to be is that fiction is a way to escape reality. This is a trend of Japanese fiction and business by themselves, but I think there’s a trend to stop the mind from becoming an adult. Because that’s convenient for the businesses.
However, nowadays, that leads to things like selling away your memories, and I think that if your saved up memories run out, then it’s all over. At the very least, they’re not heading towards the future.
You appear in the credits of the Rockman X Novel. Can you tell us what role did you play in the creation of the novel?
I can’t tell much details but I was originally called in by Mr. Iwamoto to help with the settings. Apart from that, I will express what happened as “I did a lot of things”. Because I really think that I’ve been involved in a lot of details, to the point one would be surprised. But that’s all I can tell.
But there was a goal, I wanted to help sort the text of the novel so that it’d help put some order to the literary side of the Rockman X (series) and so that both new fans and existent fans would easily understand it. I’d like of businesses who want to cooperate with Rockman to read the novel, too.
On the other hand, I’ve told a lot of others things which many already in other media so if you pay attention to parts not told in the games or the manga when reading, you can probably notice (my involvement).
You worked on the "The Legend of Dark Witch" series and Gaist Crusher videogames, how was that experience?
Gaist Chrusher was a project that came to me when I’d begun working as a freelancer through Pixiv. I explain the reasons below, but it was mostly because I’d uploaded tons of Rockman Zero fan concepts art, as part of “project RCL”. The taste of my art was close to what “Gaist” wanted. When I was meeting in person with them, they had my illustrations of “project RCL” placed on the desk; Producer Yanaka, who’d just joined the company, had probably seen them.
Then I began working on the character designs but that was a continuous struggle. I was young, and had issues with my manner of production. I read the project and provided concepts as well as counter-proposals but they weren’t properly understood. My perception was that if it were Capcom, they’d do that or the other, I was following the style of the predecessors. To begin with, there were about 100 characters so I was keeping a close eye on the cost of the project.
I was also working when the base concepts weren’t set in stone yet. In terms of a Rockman game, it was like when the Rockman design wasn’t set in stone yet. I was told that my view of the world was different but it was an stage where we were unable to share the PoVs so their assessment wasn’t correct.
Very sensible dealings went on. Ultimately, by adding the hobbies of the generation of the planner, and submitting it, things began to proceed smoothly. I was disappointed in that aspect. I also thought that since there was 100 of them, I could take different design approaches, so I also submitted monochromatic designs. Because I’d calculated that the shades in the game’s graphical style would make them be drawn in a beautiful way. But then I began to be asked why they lacked colors and struggled to explain the why. As a result, I think that this game ended up having a very beautiful design indeed.
What was interesting is that, ultimately, it was very close to what I’d shown them. The staff working on the making would later praise me, saying “it’s all ended up as you said it would”. Afterwards I worked in some other illustrations, too. I didn’t make too many character designs so I tried to compensate through illustrations, but then the character designs for the next installment began and I ended up doing a frightening amount of work. But there I met with Mr. Suegutsu, and it became a big chance for me to grow up. Weren’t it for him, I’m sure my abilities wouldn’t have improved so much. And as a result I’ve been able to make some character designs which I can be proud of.
But reality is merciless. Gaist Crusher suffered in sales. It released in December, but by the end of the year the price had dropped down to about 2000 Yen (approximately $18 or 16€). We’d deployed promotions as TV, anime and magazines as well as sell goods, but they didn’t help much. I began to think of what was the issue.
First aspect was the Japanese declining birth rates. Next was the distribution. There’s few game shops, so parents can’t easily go buy games. Also, the stores should control their shelves so that some things aren’t seen by the parents, such as the Level Five games. Because children have no right to decide what they want.
Also, the TV anime, for better or the worse, had been made before the release, and some might’ve been satisfied with watching the only. We also had a very narrow broadcast area and didn’t consider net streaming, and it probably wasn’t something that fit the current generation.
To sum it up, I realized that we were trying to follow the successful methods of the past but we didn’t try to catch up with the times. I feel like that we stopped thinking and we added many things out of custom instead. Also, trying to follow Pokémon and making 100 monsters and equipment, but it’s a game about a hero so we should’ve been clearer in using the character design as a main selling point, we should’ve put some more effort there.
As a result, the boss class designs that took about a month to make were expended as if they were common design. Taking one month to make one design out of 100. There were some that took three months. However, by looking at it from a costs perspective, there was no profit line anywhere.
This IP was worked upon as something to overcome Rockman, but ultimately the 1st game dropped sharply in price and stopped at around 400 Yen (approximately $4 or 3€). All of these happenings were a big experience within me. I’ll now talk about “Legend of the Dark Witch”.
“Legend of the Dark Witch” was an offer from a person with whom I exchanged business cards in an event where Mr. Inafune was the presenter, “Kurogawa Juku”. I think that I got a call when coming back from the Comic Market, and we began meeting right after New Year’s. They were looking for someone to handle the artwork. It was an indie project for the 3DS, something unusual in Japan at the time.
I split the workload with Mr. Miyata, and I handled the character design calibration and illustrations. The reason was because I still had a lot of job left to do for Gaist. And also wanted to give some of the work to someone else to train them, that was what I wanted to experience. Those were my main two reasons. By that time, I was also splitting my work with someone else in Gaist, too.
Now I can say this, but I felt that, at the prototype phase back then, it wasn’t the Rockman-like game that it is today. The image of the Touhou series was stronger. When I joined the project, the character designs changed, and so did the graphics and that’s what led to the completion of its current image.
The first game was planned to be 200 Yen (approximately $2 or 1.5€) but was released at a 400 Yen (approximately $4 or 3€) price. I did think it was too cheap, but I aimed to make artwork that matched the price. Something too rich would feel out of places, and I was careful that they didn’t feel too different from the sprites. I purposely used few colors in the characters.
And when the first game release, it repercuted more than we expected. The low price and the game’s direction matched the market, I guess. Children player stood out. There was no new Rockman for 3DS at the time so I guess some were eager for a 2D action game. It was a good idea to make the characters friendly, too. It was like an entrance into the 2D action games for children. Fellow artists also played the game.
As a result of the good reactions, I gained permission to publish an art book out of my own expenses. I guess this speed must’ve been unusual at the time?
I worked in EP2 as Art Director. I didn’t only work on the illustrations or character designs, I also worked in the logo and GUI and, just like Mr. Inafune, I sought an increase on sales.
I found on my own the concept of EP2 being two times bigger, and two times more expensive. As well as having two times more volume. But then we wouldn’t have enough staff and it’d be bad if it sold less than first so I invited guest staff. Those fellow artists whom I’d mentioned, who’d played the first game.
I aimed to advertise the game together with them. Ultimately I got over ten new staff members to join me. Making of new music and mini games as well as support of illustration making, they helped me out a lot.
I also held a enemy character design contest, like Rockman had done. It was pretty fun and not only we got designs but a lot of ideas for stage gimmicks, and I honestly think it ended up a pretty high level contest. This game’s price is cheap so there’s a lot of children playing it, and I’m glad that new generations steadily join us.
Why am I so excited? Because it helped spread the indies game market in Japan, even past the expected sales. I guess that the contents making led by businesses is coming to its limits, and a free market like that of apps should be built. Looking back at my goals of this project, it was the time when game shops had decreased and the 3DS download sales had begun to stabilize. And since there’s Nintendo pre-payment cards sold at Japanese convenience stores, I set my attention there.
The lowest price was 1000 Yen (approximately $9 or 8€), and you’d be left with 600 Yen (approximately $5 or 5€) if you bought the first game. EP2 is 800 Yen (approximately $7 or 6.5€), so you’d use up almost all the amount in a card. Looking at the circulation, this is a good idea to make both children and adults have it easy to buy games.
I wanted to also use the lessons learnt from Gaist. Nowadays it’s become standard to download and buy games on the Switch and Indie games can be easily played.
Can you tell us the origin of the R·Style magazine?
At the time, the game development project “Project RCL” was in the works, and the origin was me issuing this magazine for an event that’d work as a tie-up.
I’d been wishing to make a Rockman magazine and that influenced a lot, too. However, my partner planner in charge of the “RCL” project, “T-Tsubasa”, was struggling with it, so I, who was but the person in charge of the artwork, the “R-Style” was my main work to gear up for the event.
To follow Rockman, I decided that a group was needed and not me alone, so I invite a lot of guests purposely. Overseas people have recently asked to join me as well. I choose themes that fit the season but I also try to make it so even if you read it afterwards, it’s easily understandable.
It’s made as if I was explaining what the precursors poured into the work, so it’s not a simple consideration, there’s a lot of contents that are trying to fill gaps which have a more or less established answer. Why am I trying to explain it? Because I want to leave behind clues for future people who want to work in Rockman contents, so that they can properly analyze the works of the series.
The surface of a work is always but the tip of the iceberg, and there’s a lot of detailed info piled up beneath the surface. I’ve set past series into motion by using that premise, but as of late, I feel that the contents move on without me knowing it. I want to stop that trend.
Speaking of which, the Rockman X novel did inherit that theme.
Also, the “doujinshi (fanzine)” were born in a period when civilian activity became vigorous to protest against limitations in expression. And so it’s become a norm to work in groups, but nowadays individual works can stand out on their own. They want to be a counter to those, too.
Overseas fans have increased as of late, so I’ve released translated versions in e-book format yet Japanese translations is hard; so I’m recruiting staff that can translate.
What plans or goals do you have for the magazine this year?
I will announce it here before I announce it anywhere else. The “red requiem” project which I submitted in the “project RCL” fanwork that links Rockman Zero and ZX will be renewed, and expanded as “Zet Requiem”. The media will be a novel, but I will be working so that it becomes a graphical publication.
I’d welcome anyone who’d like to join as translation staff. However, they need to have very detailed knowledge of the Rockman Zero (series).
I will use this special opportunity to showcase this artwork.
To close the interview, do you have a message for overseas Rockman fans that you'd like to share?
I don’t think it’ll end in a single sentence so please excuse me for that. As you already assume, I appreciate you guys a lot. If the current Japanese status continues I’m afraid that the culture of Rockman in Japan will eventually decay. Why? Because they don’t think of making an archive of it, of the culture. They think that Capcom will eventually do that.
But, the reality is different. Apart from me, nowadays contents makers have the habit of reading Wikipedia too. So the precision in which the culture remains is up to the activities of the fans. The overseas fans have contributed a lot to achieving that, so I think that if this form keeps on, it will be preserved for the future.
However, the current state of Rockman in Japan is complicated. I fear that the Japanese Rockman culture will be lost, since the creator intent is what stands out at the utmost. I guess everyone thinks that “you only need to remember it for yourself”. That’s already stepped up to a stage in which that won’t suffice, and that a way to preserve the works for the future generations is needed.
I hope someone can provide advice on what could be done to achieve that.
Thanks for listening to my answers!
Hi-GO! wanted to share some of his artwork done over the years with us, from music CD covers to his doujinshi books, below you can see a small selection of his work.