A retrospective look at the inspiration behind the album, and the legendary artist Yoshitaka Amano. Written by Travis Nylund
When I think of Yoshitaka Amano, the first things that come to mind are the art and world of Final Fantasy. But with a body of work spanning five decades, his talents extend far beyond that of Square Enix’s marquee franchise. Over the course of his career, Amano-san has published over 30 art books, worked on over 2 dozen different animation projects, created countless illustrations, and is the only artist whose non-photographic work has ever been featured on the cover of Vogue Magazine. By all accounts, Yoshitaka Amano is a world-renowned, wildly influential artist.
It is with great pleasure that we are proud to present: "Esperwave" — a brand new record by Natsukashii, with original artwork by none other than the legend himself, Yoshitaka Amano.
B A C K G R O U N D
Final Fantasy has always held a special place in my heart. As a kid growing up in the '90s — which I still refer to as the "golden age of JRPGs" — I'd buy anything that Squaresoft released. These games were quite literally the stories and soundtracks of my childhood. Since the beginning, Yoshitaka Amano has been instrumental in breathing incredible life into the series, and his legacy has left a lasting impression on gamers across the globe.
It's important to note that Final Fantasy VI (originally called Final Fantasy III in North America) is my favorite RPG of all time, and is largely considered to be the best Final Fantasy game ever made. But what is it about the game that evokes these intense feelings of nostalgia? One could certainly point to the game's ensemble cast, whose stories are not only layered, but also uniquely human — or the game's art and music direction, which creates an immersive, moody world that is somehow both ancient and timeless.
Creating a list of reasons why the game is great is a relatively simple task, but describing how and why it resonates with me at a core level is harder to put into words. Personally, I feel that there was an element of real magic present in the creation of Final Fantasy VI; it's as if the artists and developers involved came together to create a living, breathing thing. And over the last 25+ years, the game's story, characters and music have never been far from my thoughts.
R E A C H I N G O U T
While working on the “Manawave” vinyl release, we began to discuss what might come next should the record be as successful as we had hoped it would be. Natsukashii mentioned that he had future plans to produce an arrangement for a Final Fantasy soundtrack, which naturally piqued my interest. After some back and forth, it became clear that he and I both shared a deep love for Final Fantasy VI. "What if we were able to get Yoshitaka Amano to do the art?" At the time, saying this aloud seemed like a pipe dream. Even after working with the composer of Secret of Mana, Hiroki Kikuta, who graciously provided liner notes and reactions to the “Manawave” album, and securing licensing to art created by the game's original artist, Hiroo Isono, getting Amano-san to work with us on this new project seemed like a long shot. "Fortune favors the bold," we thought, and we decided to see how far we could take this.
On a wing and a prayer, we submitted our project request. We asked for an original piece, with inspiration to be drawn from Final Fantasy VI. We didn't communicate much in the way of details or guidance, only that we wanted Terra's Esper-form to be included. We said that the artwork was to become the cover of the album titled “Esperwave”, but that we also wanted this to be a standalone, museum-quality art print. We mentioned the intended style of the music, our previous work on “Manawave”, and how an original piece would be an unprecedented landmark in the blossoming video game vinyl community.
We also wanted this to be a standalone, museum-quality art print.
G A M E O N
Either through blind luck, fate — or both — Amano-san was interested in fulfilling our request. Only, there was a potential roadblock: we didn't have permission to use Terra's likeness, or that of any other character/element from Final Fantasy VI. We huddled up internally to discuss an alternative direction, should we be unable to continue with our original plan. Just having Amano-san working with us on the album would have been enough, but having these known and loved characters featured prominently on the piece would be icing on the cake. After some continued correspondence, Amano-san was able to leverage his relationship with Square Enix to get the necessary approvals and he began to work on the painting.
There was an immediate sense of awe.
After a couple months, we received an image of the completed piece. There was an immediate sense of awe. It took a moment for the gravity of the situation to finally set in; we were beyond elated with the outcome. When showing the piece to Natsukashii for the first time, he mentioned how complete it felt to have his music alongside the art of the great Amano-san.
While simultaneously working on the vinyl record, we began looking for printers. A few things we knew for certain: we would find a printer that could provide museum-quality giclée printing using archival pigment inks, and we would only produce 250 copies (never to be printed again). We chose Static Medium in Los Angeles to photograph, proof and produce the prints, because they are simply one of the best in the business. They have a long history of working with some amazing artists, and their attention to detail, quality control, and love for the medium made them a clear choice.
After having the artwork shipped from Tokyo, Static Medium was kind enough to welcome us at Channel 3 into their facility to see the piece in person. We both knew that this would most likely be our only chance to see an Amano original, so without hesitation, we booked our tickets and hopped on a flight to Los Angeles.
In order to properly photograph the piece, Static Medium utilized a Full Frame Medium Format camera, the Phase One IQ3 100MP, and took four separate photos to composite and stitch together an image that is suitable for printing at the size requested. From there, the team carefully proofs the image to ensure color matching is accurate. We were able to see a proof in person, and the colors of the replication were indistinguishable from the painting in front of us.
We decided to increase the print to 24” x 32”.
Being at Static Medium in person really allowed us to see the size and detail of the piece, something that would have been hard to translate over a picture sent via email. The painting is lush, textured, detailed, and rich in color. Upon seeing a proof of our original intended print size, we decided to increase the print to 24” x 32”.
Originally, we had set out to do an 18" x 24" print, but we quickly realized this would not adequately capture how grand this piece was at scale. This decision would not have been made had we not seen the piece in person. We sincerely want to thank Static Medium for allowing us the opportunity to visit their facility.
T H E M U S I C
Natsukashii began work on creating his own interpretation of Final Fantasy VI long before we had commissioned Amano-san for the artwork. During the early stages of production, he had carefully curated a list of 25 songs from the game's extensive soundtrack, but knew that only around 12 would make the cut. Natsukashii's love for the vinyl medium guides his approach in creating a focused and cohesive listening experience. Knowing that the format comfortably allows up to 20 minutes per side, each selection would align with his unique vision for the album, and the tracklist would be sequenced in a way that paired with the game's overall narrative.
As we entered the final stages of the album's production, we were very happy with how things were shaping up. The tracklist had been finalized. The songs were more-or-less complete — save for some fine tuning, transitional effects, and some last minute adjustments. There was a simultaneous feeling of relief and anxiousness as we awaited the final piece of the puzzle: Amano-san's completed artwork.
The day finally arrives, and then we see him. Kefka. His unmistakable 16-bit laugh begins to run through our heads, as if he were taunting us.
"I never started work on a Kefka piece..." said Natsukashii, "It's a complex piece, but I could try and take a stab at it?"
While the track did appear on the initial consideration list, it was not a track that made it on the final sequence. However, after seeing the completed artwork for the very first time, Natsukashii was so inspired that he immediately jumped into action. What came as an unexpected surprise, turned out to be the catalyst of one of the most defining tracks of the album.
With the music and artwork finally completed, we began working on the vinyl jacket layout and color variant selections. With the color palette of the artwork being so incredibly varied, we had a lot of options at our disposal. As pictured, we settled on 4 color variants:
- 150 "Magicite Blue" - a Metallic Ice Blue
- 300 "Figaro Regalia" - an Opaque Yellow and Blue Splatter
- 500 "Palazzo Pink" - a Transparent Smokey Pink
- 50 "Classic Black"
The images of the color variants are actual photos provided by our pressing plant, so you can expect the final copies to look very close to these mockups!
Additionally, we wanted to maintain continuity with the "Manawave" release in regard to the overall packaging quality and design, so the "Esperwave" release will be presented in a Japanese-style Tip On Jacket, complete with a premium holographic foil Obi strip, 11x11" insert with liner notes, anti-static rice paper inner sleeves, and an outer poly bag.
F R I D A Y, A U G U S T 1 3 T H
We’re excited for you to be a part of the story. You do not want to miss the opportunity to own 1 of the 250 hand-numbered prints, which are never to be produced again.
Both the print and album will be available for preorder this Friday. The album is also availably digitally now on Bandcamp, with other major streaming services to follow shortly after.
Thank you for reading. We hope this print and this music brings you as much joy as it has brought us.