Before he passed away in 2016, Yasushi Nirasawa was the embodiment of carefully crafted excess.
My first encounter with Yasushi Nirasawa came from the world of toys. During the late 90s and early 00s, several waves of figures from Fewture Toys came out based on his art. These toys populated FYE, Electronics Boutique, and comic book stores across the US. The Devilman and Resurrection of Monstress series in particular caught my teenaged eye.The Monstress line of toys took popular movie monsters like mummies, werewolves, and vampires, and turned them into sexy women with loads of accessories like skulls, syringes, blood bags, electric guitars, and more. They were gaudy, over the top, and pretty tawdry, but they had me hooked. There was a level of detail to these toys that was like nothing I had ever seen. His Devilman figures, based on the manga by Go Nagai, also served as a crash course in one of the greatest horror comics of all time (keep in mind Devilman’s only exposure in the US at that time was the 1980’s OVA series. The manga wasn’t released here officially until 2018). I had no idea who Devilman, Silene, and Amon were, but they looked badass with their winged heads, bulging biceps, and clawed hands. I needed more.
I started hunting down art books with Nirasawa’s name attached to them. The books “Chameleon” and “Niragram” in particular made me realize just how prolific this man was, and how the toys I coveted were only the tip of this bizarre iceberg.
An illustrator, comic author, and figure maker, Nirasawa got his start submitting custom designed models to Hobby Japan EX in 1987. Soon he became a prolific contributor to the Hobby Japan family of publications. His figures reinterpreted popular characters such as Kamen Rider, Devilman, and Guyver, taking them to new visceral levels of aesthetic extremes. He really got to shine in his recurring column, Creature Core, which featured often scratch-built figures of original monsters that riffed on superheroes, the Bible, and tokusatsu shows. It was this eclectic approach that balanced nuanced craft with a strong diet of schlock horror/sci-fi movies that that drew me to his work and identified with it. I became so enamored with his past works that I dug through used bookstores in Tokyo just to find his past contributions to Hobby Japan.
Nirasawa produced concept art for video games, TV shows, films, and anime. Edge Master from the 1999 Dreamcast game Soulcalibur was a Nirasawa creation; a weapon master that was equal parts Toshiro Mifune and Sir Alec Guinness.
In Nirasawa there is a distillation of 1990’s cinematic blockbuster excess and Go Nagai levels of debauchery, but tempered by impeccable craftsmanship.Photos of his workspace show his desk, littered with sculpting tools, brushes, and shelves lined with countless toys, garage kits, posters, masks, totems, and more. Nirasawa’s world was one of carefully balanced chaos, and the imagination made real.
Looking down at me from the bookshelf is a figure he designed of Satan from “Devilman”. This plastic Prince of Lies has icy blue semi-translucent skin, a multitude of wings, pendulous breasts and glow-in-the-dark internal organs. Yasushi Nirasawa may be gone, but I feel very lucky that I am able to keep his unique creations always close to me. Nirasawa’s work is thoroughly irreverent and even downright absurd at times, but what elevates it is his truly eye catching style. It caught my eye almost 20 years ago, and it just might snare you too.
If you would like to see more of Yasushi Nirasawa’s art, I reccomend the books “Blood of Nira’s Creature”, “Niragram”, and “Chameleon”.