Design collision: Cool Japan design artbook review

I recently picked up a new artbook called <em>Cool Japan Design: Inspired Graphics of Japanese Manga, Animation and Game.</em> It&rsquo;s a book that covers the expanse of graphic design that goes into the dustjackets, CDs, DVD/BD sets, merchandise bonuses, advertisements (and more) of all the items you can buy related to anime merchandise.

Published in July 2013 by PIE Books, the book has a softcover with a silvery, almost metallic, dust jacket, and has 224 full-colour pages. The vocaloid Hatsune Miku, who recently appeared on <em>Late Show with David Letterman</em> and finished two concerts in New York and Los Angeles, graces the cover in her signature outfit. In the words for the original publisher: &ldquo;If you think about it, the role of design in this area is about establishing a connection between the work and the fans. Designers more than anyone else are aware of this&hellip;&rdquo; This serves to set the tone for the rest of the book. The names of the designers/design studios are stated clearly in the relevant sections and in the back of the book, which help to establish patterns in work. The expanse is pretty impressive, considering the scope that this artbook covers &ndash;&ndash; there are thousands pieces of manga/anime/gaming-related design that are created each year, and all of the pieces highlighted feel well justified.

The first section with Hatsune Miku shows just why the packaging is just as important as the contents. Miku is the mascot for speech synthesis desktop software (a muse of sorts); in an era dominated by digital downloads, the illustrations/design of the CD covers with charming illustrations are all the more important in drawing fans in, and being closer to their passions by owning the physical copy.

There was significant care in putting the series showcased in the <em>Cool Japan Design</em> in context. Items like the CD cases, along with the CD itself and inserts are photographed well to show off their typography and conscious use of colour. The use of grids for the accompanying text helps the layout come together. The descriptions are printed in Japanese with an English translation below it, and the series that the items are designed for are stated clearly. I don&rsquo;t know all of the games and shows that are shown off in this book, but the captions serve to give spoiler-free information from where that particular piece of merchandise comes from, some details on the graphic design that was used as the final, and a bit on context on why certain colours, materials, or fonts where used. The descriptions are as close as you can get without touching the physical copies to feel the embossing or foil finishings.

The foreword talks in passing about the need for bonuses that usually come with ordering certain DVD/BD sets. There is a sense that there is a need to balance the cost of manufacturing the most premium looking sets in order to help &ldquo;maniac&rdquo; or &ldquo;general&rdquo; fans make the decision on whether purchasing the item for their collection is the right choice.

&nbsp; This artbook highlights some really great designs, and the creativity of certain items I never thought you could buy. There&rsquo;s the illustrations for <em>The Book: Jojo&rsquo;s Bizarre Adventures 4th Another Day</em> pop-up illustrations for a novelization of the manga where the characters are shown in the location that the story was referencing at that point in the book; the cute microbes from <em>Moyashimon: Tales of Agriculture</em> as the main point of the advertising design and bonus plushie; or the marble chocolate-like blind embossing on the boxset for Inio Asano&rsquo;s <em>Good Night Punpun</em> comic.

&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; For the price point and breadth of design in this book, I would say this was worth buying. I still need to read it a bit more to fully absorb all the visual eye-candy. For a book that showcases the concept of &ldquo;total design,&rdquo; this is a well-put together package showcasing diverse styles and formats, and will serve as a great source for inspiration for people that like graphic design and the items of the &ldquo;Cool Japan&rdquo; export.