The best Japanese illustrators tend to be elemental: a single-minded, concentrated force runs through their work, making it really easy for fans to spot an ABe, a Murata… To prove this, I will associate my favorite artists with the 5 elements of Japanese tradition.
3 things before I start. First, the Japanese elements come from Buddhism, and they are different from the old Chinese system which predates Buddhism. 1) China has wood, fire, earth, metal, water. Japan has earth, water, fire, air, void/space. 2) The Chinese system has each of these elements transform into each other constantly, whereas in Japan there is a hierarchy of separate elements, from earth through to the void. (But I don’t mean to imply my choice for Earth artist is inferior to my Water artist, etc.)
Next, Japanese Esoteric Buddhism (Shingon=真言) associates each of these elements with a Buddha, and I will work with these connections as well. Before you accuse me of blasphemy or sacrilege, let me assure you that the Shingon sect teaches very openly that its imagery and cosmology are just crutches to use on your way to the truth, and that any set of associations, mythologies is just that.
Finally, I’m using two pics per artist. The first is meant to be a good example of the elemental force of the artist. The second is simply a favorite of mine. The kanji for each element are my own addition.
So, with that done, here they are!
I. EARTH – HOSHO BUDDHA
This is easy. Earth is physical and it likes to resist. Jun Tsukasa likes to portray healthy bodies enclosed in armor (his original doujin circle is called “Armored Girl”. Hosho in the esoteric system is the Buddha that realizes that everything has value of some sort: he is the master of non-discrimination. There is no pretension in Tsukasa. He is truly a down-to-earth kind of guy.
He can do cute too!
II. WATER – ASHUKU BUDDHA
With titles like “Water Phosphorus” and “Fluid” to his credit, Yoshitoshi ABe is even easier to peg on the elemental scheme. Ashuku is the calming Buddha, always ready to soothe the angry mind and lead to the pure mirror of the mind. If that’s not ABe’s mission in life, I don’t know what is!
ABe could do a great set of illustrations for LOTR.
III. FIRE – AMIDA BUDDHA
The element of Fire is agressive, energetic and passionate. It likes to move things (Air is slightly different, see below). Amida’s color is red, his jewel the ruby, and his throne seat the peacock. With that in mind the link with Okama‘s art is made clear. Take us to West!
On second thought, maybe this next pic is more fiery.
IV. AIR – FUKUJOJU BUDDHA
Air likes to move in freedom, move itself, rather than move other things like Fire does. Range Murata can be icy-cold in his work sometimes, but you can’t take it personally, it’s just Air doing what it does best. The Air kanji also means “style” in Japanese, and Murata’s is cool no doubt about it. Fukujoju is the Buddha of accomplishment.
Murata + eye-patch girl + black wings = greatness.
V. VOID – DAINICHI NYORAI
Dainichi Nyorai is the supreme entity in Esoteric Buddhism, from Tibet to Japan. Void represents energy and is at the top of the elemental scheme. In some ways void is what holds up all the elements together, in another sense it is what denies and transcends them. I don’t know who to put here!!! Maybe it should go blank, or maybe..
I’ll be curious to hear your opinions and suggestions.