Digimon Partners interviews with Asako Tsukahara on Digimon Ghost Game and Frontier promotional art

(Original title: “Interview with the creator of our promotional art: An Interview with the Design Room”)

A translation of two interviews posted on the Digimon Partners website on April 27 and May 2, 2023 respectively with promotional illustration producer Asako Tsukahara, regarding production behind promotional and merchandise art for Digimon Ghost Game and Digimon Frontier‘s 20th anniversary.

Please note that the following translation omits some redundant text.

Digimon Ghost Game

Since our last interview about Digimon promotional art was well-received, here’s another special interview! This time, we’ll be focusing on two different anime series: Digimon Ghost Game and Digimon Frontier!

Let’s start with Digimon Ghost Game, which aired its final episode recently ♪ We asked the person in charge of the promotional art about her passion and personal priorities when it came to the products and collaboration events that accompanied the broadcast.
In our next article, we’ll also be talking about Digimon Frontier, which has just gone through its 20th anniversary from its original broadcast. Please look forward to it!

Asako Tsukahara: Toei Animation Co., Ltd. Design Room member
Digimon Partners Staff: A person in their 30s who loves Digimon

Starting with the logo design

DP: What kind of work did you do for the Digimon Ghost Game TV anime when it started broadcasting in 2021?

Tsukahara: It all started from a meeting with the producer regarding the logo design. I and another person came up with a rough draft, and the designer decided on the lettering balance and color scheme afterwards.

As far as design goes, I wanted to sneak Gammamon in there as a hidden motif, so we thought about putting his scarf or his horns in there, and we eventually settled on putting his eye in there. As for the colors, the producer requested that we add the three colors corresponding to his three Adult forms, so it turned out like this. I was involved from the very beginning of the project, so I have quite an attachment to it.
DP: So these colors are based on BetelGammamon, KausGammamon, and WezenGammamon.
Tsukahara: The producer was very insistent on wanting those colors. When I work on other series, there’s usually some kind of general motif we have to use, but for Ghost Game, I only received an explanation of the series itself and its characters, and there were no specific instructions beyond that. So we drew several different versions by hand and made different proposals, and once we’d finalized a rough draft, we asked the designer to solidify it.

Toei Animation 2023 Calendar

DP: What kind of illustrations did you work on after the logo?
Tsukahara: We started on the illustration for the 2023 calendar from a very early stage, all the way back in December 2021. I was able to imagine the characters based on the lore info and story outlines I was provided in advance, but I wasn’t able to see them as “moving pictures” until after the episodes were actually broadcast. So I had to use trial and error and experiment, especially for Kiyoshiro and Jellymon, who had only just appeared on screen at the time. I especially wanted to reflect the relationship between them, with Kiyoshiro having a dramatic reaction as usual while Jellymon is amused by his antics. For Ruli and Angoramon, I saw the scene with Angoramon carrying Ruli in episode 4, “The Doll’s Manor”, I thought “this is cute, please do more of this!” and put it in the picture, and I was very happy to see that it became a regular thing within the story itself. As for Hiro and Gammamon, I was able to reflect them even with only the first episode, with the idea “Hiro is put-together like an older brother, while Gammamon is energetic and innocent.” At first, I thought it would be a relationship like that of Daisuke and V-mon, but the concept of “brothers” hadn’t been used before in previous Digimon series, and I really liked that. So I tried to use their facial expressions and poses to get that across. I was able to come up with all of this from a very early stage, so I had a lot of fun with it.
DP: It’s surprising to hear that you were doing trial and error, considering how well you captured their characters.
Tsukahara: After this art piece, I also worked on illustrations for Bandai’s products, including the Digimon Card Game, and also supervised the super-deformed illustrations that GraffArt added so much cuteness to. Please take a look at their official websites.

A poster illustration with the Perfect-level forms

DP: This is the main poster art featuring the Perfect forms, released in July 2022 and currently being used on the landing page for the official website. You can see Canoweissmon and the others on it.

Tsukahara: I started by drawing out a rough draft for the poster (which character should be placed where, what poses they should take, etc.). At the request of the PR staff, I put it together based on the idea of the trio working together with their partners to take on each case as they became progressively more and more intense.
DP: Every time a new piece of promotional art came out, the fans were talking about things like Ruli’s different facial expressions.
Tsukahara: Yes, there was that. Ruli started out with a cheerful smile on her face at first, so this time, we had her look more dignified when she fights. In the initial poster from the start of the series broadcast, Kiyoshiro was terrified and running away in fear, but you can see how he’s grown a little and is willing to confront things even despite his fear. Hiro was a very to-the-point kind of person even from the beginning of the story, but in the initial poster, he had a surprised expression, so I wanted to reflect how much he’d grown since then. This was also made while the series was still being broadcast, so I had to do trial and error to figure out how each Digimon’s personality would change after they evolved and how they would act.
DP: Thetismon looks very courageous here.
Tsukahara: Her hands are very distinctive, so I wanted to structure it in such a way that you could really see them. Jellymon and TeslaJellymon are the mischievous and playful type, so when I was mocking up the rough draft, I had Thetismon punching her fist out in a straight line. But when I saw her in the actual story, she was moving elegantly, so in the final version, I was able to make her come off nicely with open hands. I was surprised to see her with a much more graceful personality than I’d expected, so it was interesting to see how much a Digimon’s character changes when they evolve.
DP: So when you go from the plot description to watching the actual footage, you modify things to reflect the difference in how it actually came off.
Tsukahara: That’s right. The difficult part about working on a currently-airing series is that you have to understand how the character is developing and make frequent updates. With past series, all you have to do is figure out which part of the story you’re referencing from and work from there. But when the series is ongoing, you’re working with the most recent material you have available, and by the time it’s released, it’ll already be a little behind, so it’s a challenge to make sure it doesn’t come off as outdated.

Special promotional art for “Who Are You?”, broadcast July 3, 2022

DP: On that note, the special illustration “Who Are You?” was made to go along with the story.
Tsukahara: When I heard we were going to make a whole piece of promotional art for only one episode, I could feel the dedication from the person in charge of PR (laughs). More specifically, the instruction was “a cheerful Gammamon in the front, a mish-mash silhouette with a face on the wall, and a disturbing atmosphere in the background”, so I had Gammamon look full of energy and spotlighted his “cuteness”, while the shadow in the background had an eerie feeling and a malicious expression. My goal was to get people interested in what kind of story would be involved. When I submitted the rough draft, the person in charge of PR told me “I can feel your dedication to making Gammamon cry” (laughs).
DP: (laughs)!
Tsukahara: I just wanted to express Gammamon’s unfortunate situation in the story…(laughs). But, perhaps because of that, the animation staff was able to make it a very cute yet spooky piece of art, and it’s one of the ones I have the fondest memories of. There’s also a reversed version with Betsumon in the foreground and Gammamon in the silhouette, and I also made the rough drafts for that in the hopes of conveying Gammamon’s confusion and sorrow.

DP: It’s not often when you see two pieces of promo art made for just one episode.
Tsukahara: I really don’t see this kind of thing happening often, not even with the other series I’ve worked on. The first half of the episode’s story hurt a lot, but the reunion scene in the second half was so striking that I couldn’t stop crying. I was very happy to be involved with the promotion for this episode.

AniBirth special illustration

DP: “Who Are You?” aired in July, but there have also been other collaborations and events since then that involved their own dedicated promotional art.
Tsukahara: Let’s see, in the summer we had the collaboration with Cerezo Osaka and the AniBirth event, so I was working on their promo art at around the same time. For AniBirth, the company staff in charge of the event provided the poses for each character, so we went ahead with them as-is, and the only request I made for modification was to have Angoramon run forward. He’s jumping with both legs in the air because we needed to make him match the viewing angle alongside the other characters.
This piece was used to make a lot of merch, and since there weren’t very many types of Ghost Game merch as a whole, I was so happy to see it that I actually went to the store myself to buy it. The colors are subdued, but the illustration stands out, so even an adult can get away with using it. In particular, the hand towels were very stylish.

Cerezo Osaka × Digimon Ghost Game collaboration

Tsukahara: As for the collab with Cerezo Osaka, I started with their pose suggestions, played around with how they’d wear their uniforms, and put it all together. After some consultation with the other side, we decided to have both the kids and the Digimon wear uniforms so that we could maximize each character’s charm points.
DP: It suits them all very well!
Tsukahara: Doesn’t it? Jellymon especially matches well with the uniform colors, and she makes the picture very cute. And you have Gammamon there with tons of energy, and Angoramon wearing gloves and acting as a goalkeeper, and everyone’s personalities came out very well.
DP: It’s fun to see them in different outfits from usual, and how it changes the way they come off.
Tsukahara: Before then, they didn’t have much art with them in different costumes. Hiro seems like the type who could play soccer, but Kiyoshiro and Ruli doesn’t come off as being very good at it. I wanted to get across the idea that the Digimon are mostly just playing around with the ball without understanding the rules, but they’re still having fun running around with it anyway.

Hiro appears in the main promotional artwork for AnimeJapan 2023!

Tsukahara: As for 2023, there was also the main promotional artwork for AnimeJapan 2023. When I received the request for this art, I was informed that they were going to be upgrading the Digivice, so this was the first piece of art that featured the new version.
DP: It was amazing to see such a huge variety of characters running together. When did you first get to see the finished version with him running alongside everyone else?
Tsukahara: I first saw it when it was revealed to the public. I was happy to see Hiro in such a prominent position among so many other eye-catching characters. Looking over the entire thing, he looks kind of cute because he’s a short middle school kid, and it made me wonder if they put him in such a good spot because he’s so short (laughs). Seeing him get picked to be the “face” of Toei Animation this year, I’m very proud of myself (laughs).

New artwork for the GraffArt Pop-Up Store

DP: What were your personal priorities in working on this piece?
Tsukahara: We didn’t have a lot of illustrations made for merch, so I spent a lot of time thinking through it before making a proposal. The manufacturer requested an “ending tea party” scene, so I threw in a little Easter flavor to make it more like spring. I wanted to have their costumes tie into their partners, so the tuxedos and apron dress match their colors. And as for the cakes and other food, I asked the art staff “please draw up some cute foodstuffs that reflect each character,” and it came back with the food decorated like the Digimon’s evolutionary forms. In my rough draft, I’d just drawn up a normal sandwich, so I was impressed at how cute and lovely they made it. It worked out in a wonderful arrangement.
DP: The drawing was so amazing that I actually made a noise when I saw it! It’s also nice to see the Digimon’s Baby forms as an accent for their hats.
Tsukahara: Those forms don’t show up in the anime series, but you can raise them in the Vital Bracelet, so I thought it’d be a treat for those who played with them there. The Baby forms are really cute, and I always wanted to find a place to draw them, so I was able to include them as part of the “design”.
DP: The fact you went as far as including that really shows your dedication.
Tsukahara: It was merch art with special costumes, which Ghost Game didn’t have a lot of, so I got really enthusiastic about it. “I’m gonna put in everything I personally want to see!” “I’m going to make it cute!” (laughs). GraffArt has other super-deformed art centering around the Perfect-level Digimon as well, but they made a lot of merch out of this illustration alone, so I really want to go see the shop for myself. I’m looking forward to seeing how the fans react…!
DP: You really could keep looking at this art all day!
Tsukahara: Gammamon’s eyes have a different expression whenever he eats sweet things, and I wanted to make that into merch in some form, so I had him eat a chocolate cake. The way each pair of partners matches up with each other feels very nice, and it also really brings out the atmosphere of spring, so I hope you can go visit the shop and make some more memories of Ghost Game.
DP: Thank you for your time in sharing all of this with us!

Digimon Frontier

For this article, we’ll be discussing Digimon Frontier, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary since its original TV anime broadcast ♪ We asked the person in charge of the promotional anniversary art pieces about what went on behind the scenes!

Starting off with an event piece

DP: Since Digimon Frontier went through its 20th anniversary year starting in April 2022, we got to see its characters again with a ton of special art! Which pieces did you start with?
Tsukahara: I started with the pieces for LB POP-UP THEATER (*currently operating as AniBirth), where they held a special event in April. I started working on it in October 2021, but at the time I was also juggling it with art for Digimon Tamers, so I started feeling tense. “Oh, the Frontier anniversary is soon…”

The main Digimon in Frontier are all very tall. Beforehand, I was working with Digimon partners like Agumon or Gammamon that emphasized the “cute” factor, but I felt that a different approach would be needed for this one, so I went through the entirety of Frontier again. I tried to find poses they used in the story that would emphasize their “essence”. So Chackmon is cute, Fairimon is graceful and lovely, the other Digimon are cool, and I put consideration into how to bring that out of them.
DP: Were these two pieces created at the same time?
Tsukahara: I did the one with the six kids first, and then I thought about how to have the Digimon match them in composition. So for example, Takuya is doing a V-sign because it’s the 20th anniversary, while Agnimon has his fist raised to line up with that. Everyone’s personality changes a little when they become Digimon, so I had the poses be similar while having their own little differences. But Chackmon and Tomoki are the same (laughs).
DP: So the one with the Digimon was constructed afterwards!
Tsukahara: I thought it’d be nice to see them with the same angle of view, but now that I look at Junpei…I’m wondering if maybe I should have changed his pose a little more (laughs). But by looking for poses unique to each character from the main series and using them here, I think I was able to show off their individuality. They ended up using these to make merch that focused on maintaining the link between the two pieces, so I was happy to see that my hard work paid off.
DP: Do you take merch production into consideration when you make these?
Tsukahara: I do~! For example, with acrylic stands, you can have some leeway with vertical height, but you can’t make something too horizontal or else you won’t be able to make much out of it. And while they look cool with weapons, I have to consider how they could get something like swords or long spear to fit on something like that, so that part was difficult to work with.
DP: I imagine it must be difficult in a different way from something like V-mon or Guilmon.
Tsukahara: If the pose is too restrained, it won’t look very cool, so I have to figure out how to give them poses that stand out while adjusting them in ways that’d make them fit, and that part gets tricky.

Frontier 20th anniversary and Digimon Partners 1st anniversary commemorative art

DP: The next thing you worked on was the art to celebrate the anniversaries for Frontier and Digimon Partners, right?

Tsukahara: I was told that it was going to be used for merch production, so I thought of putting them in poses that would make it easier for them to be put on upright acrylic stands. But I ended up getting the request “please emphasize their characters instead of merch production ease”, so it ended up looking like this with their current poses. I thought about what each character would be holding, and I was happy to see the fans reacting so well to seeing Kouji holding a bouquet of flowers. I was looking at the series itself and thought, “it’d be nice to have Kouji holding a bouquet of flowers and looking a little embarrassed~”, so I’m glad so many people agreed.
DP: Looking closely at it, Kouji really is blushing!
Tsukahara: He is! He’s a little embarrassed, so I had his cheeks blush a little! It was something I only casually threw in there, but a lot of people noticed. Izumi loves food to a surprising degree, so I figured I’d give her a cake, and I wanted to make Tomoki look cute with a big present box on his head, Junpei is the kind of person who brightens up the mood, so I gave him a party popper, Kouichi should have a whole handful of presents in both arms, and Takuya would be the type to hand out balloons. I had a lot of fun thinking about each character and thinking about what kind of poses and accessories they’d have.
DP: It felt refreshing to see them without their usual headgear.
Tsukahara: They’re wearing formal attire, so I had them take off things like hats and bandanas. I was glad to see that the fans really liked seeing them look so tidy. The stylish jacket Izumi is wearing was a suggestion from the person I was deciding on the costumes with. I’d thought about having her wear a dress, but this felt more fitting and glamorous, and Izumi herself is a fashionable girl, so when I saw the finished version, I thought, “of course, Izumi really does dress well.” Junpei is also wearing a vest and a tie held together with a ring, so he’s also very fashionable and handsome.

Super Complete Selection Animation D-Scanner

DP: While you were working on event art, you were also working on other illustrations like toys for Digimon Ghost Game, right?
Tsukahara: I put extra effort into the art for the Super Complete Selection Animation D-Scanner, which I’d been working on since summer 2022. Toy-related art is often used for packaging, so it’s hard to reuse it in other things, but I was happy to see them use it for the cards.

Digimon Frontier 20th Anniversary Pop-Up in Tokyo Station

DP: There was also the Digimon Frontier 20th Anniversary Pop-Up in Tokyo Station from July, where we got to see everyone holding flower bouquets!
Tsukahara: The manufacturer was the one to provide the costumes and make the request for bouquets, so we drew it up based on that. They let me pick the kinds of flowers, and I sent materials with colors and other references to the art staff, and they made the bouquets very beautiful. The fans really liked the pairing of each character with each type of flower, so I was very grateful to see their reactions.
DP: They’re very big and gorgeous bouquets.
Tsukahara: The idea was to give them large flower bouquets with different colors. It has a very different atmosphere from the other art pieces, and we got to show off a sense of beauty and cuteness that you usually don’t get to see in other Digimon things. In particular, Tomoki’s smile is adorable. The manufacturer came up with the costumes, but I think they understood the characters very deeply and chose very stylish clothes that suited them well.

DigiFes 2022 main promotional art

DP: There’s also a refreshing atmosphere that comes from the promotional art for DigiFes 2022 featuring the Frontier kids and the adult Digimon Adventure 02 characters together.
Tsukahara: When I first received the request for this piece, I thought about the height differences between the characters and felt “this is going to be tricky…” But then I remembered that Tachikawa Garden Place, the venue for DigiFes, had a wide staircase behind it. So I came up with the idea to set it there as if everyone had gone to the venue themselves, and by having certain characters sit down and adjusting things that way, I could make up for the height difference. I spent a lot of time thinking about their clothes, possessions, poses, facial expressions, and the overall composition, so I was really happy to see the art staff making them so incredibly cute.
DP: It’s nice to see the Digimon reflected in the kids’ items and costumes!
Tsukahara: The Frontier kids evolve directly into Digimon, so you can’t really line them up easily next to the Digimon themselves. So I thought about how to express their likeness, such as having Takuya wear a T-shirt or having Tomoki carrying a bag on his back. I’ve heard people saying that they want to see these being made into actual merch, so I feel my efforts in coming up with these were worth it.
DP: While we’re on this topic, can you tell us a bit more about the 02 characters?
Tsukahara: I wanted to make it come off with the atmosphere of the 02 characters having fun with their partners. Since these are done with the idea of merch being made out of them, I usually have them look at the camera, but I wanted to consider each character’s personality and thought things like “if Iori were to come to the event, he’d probably be reading the pamphlet.”
DP: In that respect, you can also see the character coming out of each Frontier kid.
Tsukahara: Actually, when I was doing the rough sketch, Kouij was looking directly at the camera, but in the actual drawing, he was looking down towards Tomoki! The person who had drawn the picture had also seen the series, and was aware that everyone, Kouji included, felt like an older sibling to Tomoki, so it naturally came out that way. I agreed that was much nicer, so we finished the final version with Kouji looking out for him!

Digimon Frontier 20th Anniversary POP UP STORE

DP: The Digimon Frontier 20th Anniversary POP UP STORE held by Loft also involved the kids with the Digimon on their props.
Tsukahara: This one had the manufacturer directly request to put the Digimon in their props, but it has pastel colors that you don’t usually see in this franchise, so it has a very different feel from usual. The main series doesn’t have anything like a pajama party, but I drew this up thinking about what would happen if they had one after returning to the real world. Tomoki’s Chackmon slippers are especially cute…
DP: Was it the manufacturer’s idea to have their original outfits incorporated into these designs?
Tsukahara: It was, and I thought it was a very cute idea, so I went ahead with it. For example, the manufacturer was the one to suggest that Takuya’s eye mask would be based off his goggles, and I agreed that it was a good way to express Takuya’s character that naturally fit in there.
DP: The Frontier collaborations had a good variety of costumes, and it was very fun to see.
Tsukahara: If anything, I feel like they wouldn’t actually be wearing their outfits from the main series that often (laughs). It’s a series that didn’t get to have different outfits in the main story, so that’s probably why the fans found it to be so refreshing.
DP: That’s the nice thing about anniversaries.
Tsukahara: When a series is currently running, we have to emphasize getting the fans to know the characters “now”, so most of the art will have them wear the same outfits. But the Frontier characters have been living in the fans’ minds for 20 years, so we can try new things with them, and I’m happy to show off a new side of them now that 20 years have passed.

AiM’s “Remaining Innocent”/Ayumi Miyazaki’s “With The Will”

DP: The CD jackets felt like the culmination of all of this!
Tsukahara: It really is. These will be the last pieces I’ll have done for Frontier‘s 20th anniversary. FEEL MEE sent me a very cool-looking image diagram to reference, so I put everything I had in trying to recreate it. I made requests to the drawing staff while adjusting the poses here and there. Everything from the Digimon inside the DigiCode, to the kids looking up to it, to the background with the Trailmon and the railroad tracks, to the moon that they went to during the final arc, all of it is lovely. We made it look luxurious, down to the coloring and effects. In terms of real-time production, it’s the culmination of this 20th anniversary, and in terms of art, you can say that this is the end of their journey, so I tried to make their facial expressions look sharp and yet refreshing. I looked back at the evolution sequences multiple times, made adjustments to the DigiCode and the light, and did all sorts of trial and error. I’m honored to have been given the opportunity to work on such wonderful CD jackets, and I was very happy to see the fans respond so well to them.

DP: Thank you for so kindly providing such valuable information! I’m looking forward to seeing more Digimon promotional art.
Tsukahara: DigiFes 2023 has been announced for July 30, and we’re working on a piece that you’ll all love! I’d like to make art that’s fun to look at and buy merch of, for instance having the characters wear and hold merch that’ll actually be sold at DigiFes. The layout has also changed a bit from those of previous years, so please look forward to that as well!

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