Interview: Itaru Hinoue, Character Designer of Key Visual Arts

Itaru Hinoue is lead character designer and one of the founding members of Key Visual Arts, one of the most influential visual novel studios in Japan. Her moe character style has helped define entire genres of visual novels and anime, from titles starting with Kanon and continuing into Air and Clannad. Inoue also contributed to the scenario of Key’s latest visual novel, Rewrite, and has also done other artwork as collected in her art book White Clover.

This interview was conducted by Lily Huang and Michael Huang. It has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

[Michael] When you started designing characters for Key, did you imagine that it would inspire an entire approach to doing this “moe” style?

I didn’t expect it at all!

[Michael] What were you trying to capture in designing characters that way, especially girl characters?

My characters have to be cute–that’s what I was going for.

After you did Kanon and Air, which were very popular games, was there a lot of pressure to meet fans’ expectations between Kanon, Air, and Clannad

I did feel pressure to make it a better creation, to draw it better, to make better illustrations for each project I had. 

I ask because Kanon and Air were only one year apart, but there was a 4 year gap between Air and Clannad

Overall we wanted to do better because Air sold so well. We ended up taking four years because we wanted to go above and beyond.

Between Clannad and Little Busters, you worked on BL games. Do you think boys can be moe?

(Laughs) You must be really into it! I like making very handsome people…because I had been drawing girls, I wanted to draw some guys. With my style of moe, I can draw them…I like the smaller boys so I can apply it the way I like.

When I came across your BL work in White Clover I was surprised. It’s so different from what you’ve done before.

After Clannad I was trying to figure out what to do next, and I wanted to draw boys. I gathered some girls and did some [focus] testing to see what kind of drawings worked, and ended up making it at the company. That’s how it started off.

[Michael] What does moe mean to you, personally?

It means kawaii (cute).

[Michael] What do you hope the audience feels when they see one of your characters?

That’s a hard question! I want them to think–“my wife.” I want them to love them that much. I want them cute enough to say “they ARE my wife.”

shizuru-heterochromatia
Shizuru from Rewrite.

What are your favorite character types to create–tsundere, megane, eyepatch, cool, etc.?

With Shizuru [Nakatsu, from Rewrite], I stuffed in everything I like into that chracter. That could be your base line of what I like to draw.

Are you aware that there are a lot of fans overseas of Key, and we were able to raise $500,000 for an English translation of Clannad?

I didn’t know it was overseas as much, but at Comiket, I did see some overseas users that visited.

Will Key focus on the overseas market in the future?

[producer] We’ll try!

How did you develop your special style of creating characters, with the large eyes and high noses? 

I’ve been drawing since I was little, and I’ve always liked large eyes–it’s a staple. Whenever I draw they just end up being big.

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