Ms. Takahashi has created many creatures using her unique imagination. She says, "I like to think, so I end up slowly accumulating idea sketches." She also says she once dreamt that she was being chased by the Spider Shibito she designed.
Designer: Miki Takahashi
Made a complete jump from Toro and Kuma Uta, designing things such as Fly and Spider Shibito in the first Siren game. In 2, she created the new enemies of Yamibito and Mother.
―Aside from designing the Shibito for the previous Siren game, you seem to have had an important role in Siren 2, including working on the Yamibito and Mother. It's uncommon to see someone whose work specialises in the designing of creatures.
Takahashi: I've loved to draw since I was a child. I think I drew cute-looking pictures as well (laughs), but the people around me would sometimes comment, "That picture's kind of creepy."
―What did you work on before joining the Siren development team?
Takahashi: The last was Kuma Uta.
―When you say Kuma Uta, you mean the cutesy thing with the bear who sings enka songs...? (laughs)
Takahashi: That's the one. When I had finished my current job I was told that a project called Siren was looking for someone who could design the monsters. Even once I had made the move to Siren I had some work left to do on Kuma Uta, so I created the cover for that while I designed the Shibito. I was concurrently doing something cute and something creepy (laughs).
―What led you to take up design?
Takahashi: I've always loved art, so in the future I wanted to draw for a living. What I really wanted to do was pursue Japanese art or something similar, but my grandfather, a sculptor, told me that it wouldn't put food on the table and I should study design, so I went along with that (laughs). Up until high school, I just drew pictures on paper. Then I got hooked on Hiroshi Aramata's "Teito Monogatari, and started making doujin.
―Going from that to CG is quite a big leap...
Takahashi: Right around the time I was a student, Ugo Ugo Ruga [a children's TV show] was popular, and I found the interestingness of the interactivity and and back-and-forth done in CG really refreshing. There happened to be an Amiga [a PC released in 1985 by Commodore. It had excellent graphical and audio capabilities] at the place where I worked part-time, so I asked to borrow it and used it to create characters. During that time, I started wanting to work on movies. I started shooting with a really dodgy-looking 8mm. Sometimes I'd make clipping of European copperplate images and arrange them in panels, then photograph them and make them look like anime.
―Was your grandfather aware of these activities?
Takahashi: No, I never showed him (laughs). He seemed like such a great person to me... Starting from when I was small, he would often take me along to exhibitions and things like that, but we hardly ever spoke when we were there - just looked. Sometimes he'd tell me, "This one is amazing, get a good look..."
―The Shibito seem to have been born from a quite amazing background (laughs).
Takahashi: When I joined the Siren team, though, they were pretty much done with the human-style Shibito, Half Shibito, which meant that I was put in charge of the designs for the Spider and Fly Shibito, which are born when the Shibito mutate.
―With things like, for example, the Spider Shibito, where they had a story-related reason for their joints turning inside out and giving them strange positions, to some extent you can understand the reasons why by reading the side stories. In what order were those things decided upon? Did you give them their forms after hearing the detailed background, or did you place the most importance upon how interesting their external appearance was, then explain it away later?
Takahashi: Actually, in Siren's case, the story details and design were being worked on at pretty much the same time. Naturally the basic flow of the story was decided upon at the very start, but the finer details came about from discussions between writer and designer as we went along. For example, Fly Shibito started with a request for a Shibito that could fly, and I started thinking from there.
―The Fly Shibito in the game have wings sprouting out of their backs like dragonflies, but were they also designed to look kind of like bird wings?
Takahashi: That's right. At the time I heard about them flying through the sky, and (Isao) Takahashi, in charge of art direction, said to me, "I'd like a crane fly." I took that, along with the proposal to make them look like they're weakly fluttering about, and combine them. I think this is one of the interesting things about the Siren team - it feels like everyone involved pitches in and combines their ideas, whether about the story or the overall atmosphere, the setting or the effects, as we make it. With development on normal games, everyone has their own distinct roles where these things are decided, and that's given to the designer, though... Sort of like, "X monster appears at Y." That's one of the reasons why I enjoy the Siren project. Maybe Toyama's personality has something to do with it, too, but it's like he tosses out a vague image of something, and then we pull together all of the ideas that each person has... As a creator, it feels like I can be quite at ease about it.
―Do you feel as though drawing strange creatures all day long is your calling?
Takahashi: I did always want to try something horror-related... (laughs)
―What are you particularly attentive to when designing creatures?
Takahashi: I start by focusing on trying not to make it too cool-looking. If it's overly complete, or you overdo it, it seems to stop being scary.
―Even out of the creatures from the first game, Datatsushi feels a little different.
Takahashi: For Datatsushi, Toyama showed me a photo of a slightly strange kind of seahorse (a leafy seadragon) and explained, "This is how I want it to look." That image was projected onto its "incomplete" form. I was pretty much left to create its "complete" form from scratch by myself. Its image is a bit like a haniwa figure or shakoki-dogu. The team had a theory that Datatsushi was a fish that came from space, so we said, "Okay, let's say that the figure was made by somebody who saw Datatsushi," and filled out its image.
―And this work led you to create brand new enemies, the Yamibito, for Siren 2.
Takahashi: With Siren 2, Toyama told me that he wanted us to put in something dealing with the opposing elements of light and darkness... He showed me a still from Shuji Terayama's "Pastoral: To Die in the Country" and said, "Do what you can and make it like this." It was a shot of people in black cloth walking in groups, which was the start of the Yamibito.
―In what way did you solidify their image?
Takahashi: I thought of them as strange creatures who live quietly in the darkness. I thought that if they hated the light then they would use umbrellas, so I gave them one. Umbrellas are both symbolic and have a stylistic charm. Personally, I projected a childlike image onto the Yamibito. They love playing pranks, but they're innocent, and can be kind of bullies...
Takahashi: The way I see them, they don't feel particularly spiteful. Long ago they were driven out by the light and fled to the World of Nothingness, and now that they've finally been freed they're overjoyed. They seem kind of cute to me.
―Despite their fairly creepy exterior. Not to mention the tattered cloth they wear...
Takahashi: Having kimonos wrapped around themselves came initially from the image of the black cloth in Pastoral, but with Yamibito, who are being chased down by the light, I thought that, since they were so afraid of making contact with the light, they would take whatever they laid eyes on and wear that... In Siren, both enemy and ally characters are created using photo data taken at a studio, so I asked the stylist to gather up a bunch of old kimonos for the Yamibito. I spent a lot of time discussing their faces with the makeup artist, but finally ended up explaining by putting it on my own face and showing them.
―You really put yourself into it.
Takahashi: Usually I use Dorin to make my face white, but to make it realistic I drew in things like blood vessels... As I was going along I thought, "Oh, this is just like drawing a picture," (laughs). I was doing my makeup in the office bathroom, and the other team members looked at me like they were thinking, "What on earth is she doing?" (laughs)
―It seems like a good way to convey something to people.
Takahashi: Yeah. If you consider what the fastest way to show others would be, it is. Honestly, in my own mind, I got the feeling that the Yamibito would look amazing if they took their clothes off... (laughs) I thought something crazy would have happened to their flesh beneath the kimonos they were wrapped in. You can't see it in the game, though. However, they think that they're humans. Maybe they don't actually consciously recognise what "humans" are, but they don't think of themselves as "incomplete". My image of them was that they're amusing and cute, but sad and scary.
―Do you project the images of scary things you've drawn since you were young onto strange creatures like the Yamibito during the process of creating them?
Takahashi: I'm not actually even sure myself if there's something I have as a firm goal, but I think it's dull if you directly show scary or horrifying things. For example, grotesque things with their innards spilling out... That can't be the only kind of fear that humans experience. I think that truly scary things are the ones that make you suddenly let out a breath when you see them. But I didn't want it just to be scary - I wanted it to be sad and desolate as well. Maybe Type-B Yamibito are the most extreme example of this. They have a kind of amusement and cuteness, which turns into terror in a second. In this way I weave together all kinds of elements as I'm designing, so I don't really know anymore myself. I think things like, Oh, I made this too docile, or Ah, this looks too cute (laughs). At times like this I show them to the character chief sitting beside me and say, "Do you think this is lacking in impact?" In return I get, "Uh, no, that's more than enough..." (laughs)
―Is there a specific something you use as reference, or...?
Takahashi: There isn't really anything in particular. I try not to look at references. I do have something like my own methodology, though. 80-90% comes from average everyday life, but the little bit left over is something that mustn't happen or is impossible. I think that's fairly amazing.