['Roboto-chan!' is a fortnightly column, by a mysterious individual who goes by the moniker of Kurokishi. The column covers videogames that feature robots and the pop-cultural folklore surrounding them. This edition covers the relatively new and upcoming mecha designer, Takayuki Yanase.]

mgs4_metalgear_mkII_1.jpgA good few years ago now, I used to live in Japan. Around the time of the original Xbox's launch I was somewhat without games to play. Thankfully there was one mecha game available for it (though admittedly I bought the damn thing on the strength of the as yet unreleased Steel Battalion). The game was Murakumo and whilst it was rather rubbish it did act as a mechanical stop-gap of sorts.

The mecha design though, was of noteworthy repute. Instead of farming out the art to one of the more famous mecha designers out there, From Software turned to their talent in-house. It was there that their unfaltering gaze fell upon the shoulders of one Takayuki Yanase.

Not only did he pen the entire mecha roster for the game he ended up becoming an integral member of the FMV production, creating storyboards and generally using his amazing talents to bring mecha to life.

However, that was as I said a good few years ago now. So, what's he up to these days?

Starting small...

murakumo_1.jpgYanase has been around for a while. He started out in the games industry almost ten years ago now. Working on various art tasks for Squaresoft on titles such as Ehrgeiz (he did the mecha design used in the opening FMV in case you're wondering). He then later joined From Software and contributed to both Armored Core 2 and Armored Core 2 Another Age, aiding in the various art tasks along with storyboarding the FMV's. After From Software he went to Monolith and worked on Xenosaga Episode II, with more involvement on the mecha design as a whole.He then made the much harder transition into the anime industry.

Starting out on shows like Eureka Seven, he turned his artistic skills to the various ships seen in the series. Admittedly, Shoji Kawamori designed the mecha and "hero" ships but Yanase lended his more technical approach to the opposing military designs (namely the Izumo, Ginga, AFX and Hakucho ships).

...becoming bigger

gundam_kyrios_full1.jpgNot that long ago, Sunrise announced a new Gundam series. Generally, this is regarded as a pretty big deal in Japan and the mecha design of the new mobile suits is obviously hugely important. Simply because they will become the icons of that particular series, helping Bandai to make inordinate numbers of model kits to sell to their soon to be eager viewers.

Well, Yanase penned three out of the four main Gundam mecha in Gundam 00. Specifically, the Kyrios, Dynames and Virtue. In mecha design terms, that's equatable to reinventing Jesus. As Kunio Okawara's RX-78-2 is verging on a holy relic in terms of mecha design and "updating" that is a dangerous task indeed (though Ogawara did design a Gundam for the show and essentially gave his "blessing" to the others). So how did someone like Yanase land such a prestigious opportunity?

Well, it wasn't any form of nepotism that's for sure. As Yanase displays an unfettered level of talent for mecha design. The best artistic analogy to his expertise is the work of Hajime Katoki. Painstakingly realised, almost aesthetically engineered, yet Yanase retains something further. Katoki is almost clinical in his approach to design, to the extent that he helms both a model kit and a toy line for the Gundam franchise. Yanase has the detail but also exudes that spark of possible impossibility. Something that could almost be tangible within the confines of your mind's eye.

valhawk_srww.jpgAdmittedly on Gundam 00 he somewhat stayed his hand, though that was the edict from the studio as Gundam is an heirloom with very specific aesthetic criteria. A better example of Yanase's talent is when he's given a freer reign on his work. Well, you can't get more free than the task of designing the "original generation" mecha in Super Robot Wars.

...ending super

To explain, Super Robot Wars is a series of games that contains mecha from almost every anime there is and in some cases anime that isn't even quite there yet. In addition to this epic roster, Banpresto had the balls to create mecha that were unique to the games themselves. These are the "original generation" or OG mecha.

Initially, they started out as homages to famous landmarks in real or super robot history. Then things got somewhat out of hand. It's now more common to see the OG mecha strutting their stuff in a manner that attempts to supercede their influences. Well, in the case of Yanase's work there's no sich thing as "attempt".

His designs in the last DS outing, W, were jaw dropping in execution, as the subsequent and disparate mecha combine via their numerous parts into the simply godly Valcazard. Don't forget that these also have to be animated as well, these were functional mecha designs. Yet his work on Super Robot Wars doesn't really cut it when compared to Another Century's Episode 3.

mgs4_mkII.jpgEffectively, an action orientated version of Super Robot Wars, these games are helmed by From Software. So having Yanase effectively go back and work with his initial employers, rings true. His creation, the Ixbrau, was a stroke of genius. It encapsulates the fragile complexity of the real robot yet also its immense versatility. As the Ixbrau sports multiple combat optimised variations (namely the B, T, G, and H versions). In the game, as with all OG mceha, it acts as the fulcrum for the narrative as well as one of the mainstay units for the player. You can't help seeing the slender form wherever you look, it's a classic design and one, like many of Yanase's, that will universally unappreciated.

This is the problem really, Yanase doesn't take real credit for his offerings. He occasionally gives the odd footnote but he's too busy in his craft to probably care. Yet all the other and arguably more derivative mecha designers are out and about posing with their creations, trying to sell toys or kits of their designs. However, he hasn't gone completely unnoticed, as he's landed work an iconic series such as Gundam at a suitably young age. Even people like Hideo Kojima have noticed Yanase's prowess.

For instance, the Metal Gear Mk.II from Metal Gear Solid 4 is also rumoured to be penned by Yanase, as he's in the game's credits along with Yoji Shinkawa as one of the contributing mecha designers and it bears the aesthetic hallmarks of his design prowess.

With any luck Yanase will venture out from the eaves of the mecha design fraternity. He's already proven his creative worth several times over but yet there's a nascent revolution present. It would be a wonderful thing indeed to see that realised; a windfall of mechanical brilliance.

[Kurokishi is a humble servant of the Drake forces and his interests include crushing inferior opponents, combing his mane of long silvery hair and dicking around with cheap voice synthesisers. When he's not raining down tyrannical firepower upon unsuspecting peasants in his Galava aura fighter he likes to take long moonlight walks and read books about cheese.]