Yasushi YAMAGUCHI / 山口恭史, AKA Judy Totoya

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Yasushi Yamaguchi is one of those multi-tasking artists who briefly worked in the animation industry before joining the video game industry in the late 1980s.
After studying at the Osaka University of Art and working as an inbetweener on the film Honnéamise no Tsubasa, he applied to Konami and Sega and joined the latter in 1988, along with Toru Yoshida (chara-designer on Phantasy Star II and IV), a few months before the launch of the Mega Drive.
He was then given the choice to work either on Space Harrier 2 or on Super Thunder Blade. He chose the first one and designed a female character to be used in a 2-player mode, which was not integrated in the game. He then joined the Super Thunder Blade development team as a graphic designer.

However, Sega quickly put his talents as an illustrator to use, notably on the last Mark III game released in Japan - Bomber Raid - for which he drew the cover art. He also drew many illustrations for SPEC, Sega's newsletter, as well as the manual illustrations of the Mega Drive adaptation of Sorcerian, a game for which he also did some of the game's graphics. Since Sega's policy didn't allow him to indicate his real identity in the credits of their games, he chose the pseudonym of Judy Totoya. Judy is a reference to Judy Garland, the lead actress in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, and the name he gave to a character he created before joining Sega. This same character later became an NPC in the aforementioned Sorcerian adaptation.

As soon as he joined Sega, and like many of his colleagues at the time, Yasushi Yamaguchi made a series of Mega Drive and Master System games without necessarily being credited, so that it is difficult to draw up a complete list of his work. Let's mention Advanced Daisenryaku, Chouon Senshi Borgman, AKA Cyborg Hunter, Hokuto no Ken: Shin Seikimatsu Kyuuseishu Densetsu, AKA Last Battle or Phantasy Star II for which he was in charge of mecha design.

When Mark Cerny brought Yuji Naka to the Sega Technical Institute after the release of Sonic 1, Yamaguchi also joined the North American studio and worked on Kid Chameleon. It was around this time that he moved from traditional colouring to Photoshop and by Sonic 2, his colour illustrations combined line drawn on paper with digital colouring.
Sonic 2 is probably his magnum opus, a title on which he controlled every detail of the graphics. In addition to redesigning Sonic, he created the characters for Tails, Mecha Sonic and Super Sonic, designed bosses and animated most of the characters, except for a few enemies. As an anecdote, when Sega launched an internal mascot contest (when the development of Sonic 1 had already begun and at the end of which no winner had been officially designated), he proposed a Tanuki.
Yamaguchi was also responsible for the title screen of Sonic 2, both in its development and final versions, as well as the backgrounds of at least 4 zones: Chemical Plant, Casino Night (originally designed by Rieko Kodama), as well as the background for Oil Ocean and Metropolis. Finally, he drew the illustrations for the Japanese manual, (scanned in a resolution that is hard to see today).

Back in Japan, he continued on the Sonic license with Sonic CD, a game whose development had started well before the release of Sonic 2 and for which he limited himself to a graphic design job. He drew the backgrounds of the special stages, converted part of the ending into pixel art and made one of the illustrations hidden in the game.

After some illustrations for the Sonic Drift manual and a new collaboration with Rieko Kodama as art director on the Saturn version of Magic Knight Rayearth, Yamaguchi left Sega to go freelance. Nevertheless, he remained in contact with his former employer and created the cover illustrations for G Sonic, Sonic & Knuckles Collection, the PC version of Sonic CD and Sonic - The Screen Saver.
It was also at this time that he started working on another big Sega licence: Sakura Taisen. The series has an impressive amount of merchandising, including drama CDs, plays, concerts, phone cards, memory cards, etc. and Yamaguchi was one of the main contributors to this license, along with Hidenori Matsubara and Kōsuke Fujishima.
Also for Sega, he designed some of the characters for the Saturn game Wachenröder as well as an (unidentified) illustration for GunValkyrie and some of the spaceships for the DS game Infinite Space.
Other games he has worked on include the PS3 game Angel Senki for which he designed a character, and the browser game Militärische Mädchen.


Recently, Yasushi Yamaguchi posted a few threads on Twitter for the 30th anniversary of Sonic 2:

About Tails:
"A picture of him when he was just an admirer of Sonic. He's not chasing him yet. He imitated him and wore gloves and similar coloured shoes, but they were too big and he tied them up with a belt.
The inclusion of a 2-player mode had already been confirmed and the American team submitted many ideas for creating this character, but the programmer, Mr. Naka, said he wanted to create a 1.5-player character that could be played with their sister (sic) and that even beginners could handle, so we created a character that was not a rival, but a sidekick character. Naka asked us to create a cute character like Urusei Yatsura's pure-hearted fox, and that's what I did.
At first, he only had one tail, but it didn't have enough impact, so I was inspired by Myau from Phantasy Star 1 and came up with the idea of using two tails as propellers. The first Sonic game was a huge success in the US, but not in Japan. So we tried to create a cute design with Japan in mind.
The characterisation and colours were designed to be symmetrical to Sonic's. His relationship with Sonic was determined with the image of Piccolo and the young Son Gohan from Dragon Ball in mind during the production of the game.
As you know, the etymology of the name comes from the word for speed (mph). The name Prower was coined by combining "per hour" and "power."

About Super Sonic
"Due to the main reference (Dragon Ball Z), the original story was, needless to say, a secret one, so it was a super secret that only those who cleared a special stage of high difficulty could see.
In the first place, Super Sonic would not have been born without the existence of manga artist Sakura Tamakichi (Super Mario Adventures). During the development of Sonic 2, in Famitsu's column 'Shiawase no Katachi', Tamakichi played Sonic 1 desperately to see the true ending, but the result deceived him so much that we decided to give a reward that would definitely pay off in Sonic 2. The basic specification of all Sonic's items with a time limit on the consumption of rings was decided relatively quickly, but the problem was the graphics, as it was impossible to redraw all the patterns in terms of time and capacity.
We tried various effects, such as a seven-colour glowing figure, but none of them were good enough. In desperation, I tried drawing the current Super Sonic, but it was not realistic to draw all the patterns, so I replaced only the basic pattern, the transformation pattern and the normal running pattern, and cheated with colour changes for the rest. High-speed running was solved with two flying patterns. This managed to reach a realistic level, so it was implemented as a super-secret only. The schedule was very tight and I started work on the ending picture at 1am on the day of master-up. The program had been dummy-programmed, so all that was left to do was to replace the picture of the final pose, but if we had been an hour short, the Super Sonic picture would not have been ready in time and it would have remained as normal Sonic."

About Mecha-Sonic
"Several of his attacks could not be integrated into the game due to time constraints: long laser shot from his eye, homing missiles from its fingers (10 shots in total), Super Gravity Smash (a gravity projectile that disappears after a certain amount of time, but sucks up the rings if it gets too close), which is launched when his chest armour opens.
Due to the schedule, the creation of the Death Egg zone map was cancelled and replaced by two consecutive boss battles in the dedicated boss room, but originally Mecha-Sonic was planned to appear as a mid-boss in the middle of the zone.
Its design concept was based on the image of Mechagodzilla and Gigan, with a strong and painful look."
(note: the designers also took inspiration from Gamera for one of the enemies) 
"After the game's graphics were completed, the blades would be flown during jump-rotation attacks as an additional attack, but they were completely retrofitted, so it was not clear where they would come from."

About Sonic's sprite in Sonic 2:
"Sonic 2 uses the same basic pattern as Sonic 1, except for the additional patterns (+ the running animation where Sonic has longer legs). There was one palette for one character in Sonic 1, while Sonic 2 uses one palette for two characters, so the blue gradient has been reduced."
Note: on Megadrive, 4 colour palettes can be displayed on screen. A palette consists of 16 colours, one of which is used as a transparent layer to display the elements behind the sprite.
Red has been reduced from 3 to 2 shades. The yellow used for Eggman, which has the same palette as Sonic, has been adjusted slightly to orange and used as the main colour for Tails. The shade of red that was removed has been replaced with a shade of orange.
"I wasn't involved, but I think it was very difficult to control the palette in Sonic 3 because the number of characters increased even more.
By the way, the enemies and the user interface (UI) have the same palette, but the bosses lacked colour, so I used the black of the UI shadow for them. That's why when you damage a boss, the black part of it and the black part of the UI shadow will flash."

About his frustration that many ideas could not be included in Sonic 2 due to the time constraints.
Some of the ideas that didn't make it into Sonic 2 were reused in Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles, but he would have liked to have had another 3 months of development time to get them into Sonic 2, including the Hidden Palace Zone which was reluctantly abandoned (but later included in the remake) and the Death Egg Zone which couldn't be developed (and wasn't just a variation on the Chemical Plant Zone).
The game was developed in a shorter period of time and with a smaller team than Sonic CD, which took over a year to develop.
Judy Totoya would have liked the Death Egg Zone to be graphically more detailed than the one in the game in the way he drew it in this concept art.
The same goes for Act 2 of Sky Chase Zone.

About the title screen:
"The temporary title screen for Sonic 2 was made in half a day for a game convention. The final version (which was animated) was made in collaboration with the programmer who was responsible for entering the image coordinates."

About the manual illustrations:
"The illustrations I drew for the Japanese Sonic 2 manual were done while I was in the US, and I left the original data in the US. I believe I brought a copy back to Japan, but I quit Sega in 1995, so I don't know where the data is now. And those illustrations were scanned at a very low resolution because they were the first data I colorized in Photoshop and I did not yet understand the resolution at that time.
The original line drawings were analog drawings on paper, so if I can find the line drawings, it would be possible to re-scan them at a higher resolution, but I don't know where that is."

About the Tornado:
"The Tornado, which crashed at the end of the Wing Fortress Zone to chase Eggman's spaceship, makes a reappearance, but at first the biplane couldn't keep up with it, so we planned to transform it into a high-tech jet-engine mecha on the way.
I was about to draw the base pattern for the transformed Tornado, but I didn't have enough time in my schedule to create the animation pattern for the transformed Tornado, and I didn't have enough space for a large sprite pattern for the transformed Tornado. As a desperate measure, I decided to mount a rocket booster.
I don't remember much about the shape, but I think it was an absurd deformation, with the propeller retracted, the nose protruding forward, the main wings merging into a single piece, and the bubble canopy unfolding.
It may be left somewhere in the data disk I left behind in the U.S."

About his early years at Sega
Sakura Wars Serenade
Judy Garland
Sonic 2 - Tails
Sonic 2 - Super Sonic
Sonic 2 - Mecha-Sonic
Sonic 2 - Sonic's sprite:
Sonic 2 - About the unused ideas he had for the game
Sonic 2 temporary title screen
Sonic 2 manual illustrations
Sonic 2 - Tornado

Other video game related works
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Gallery Part 4
Gallery Part 5

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