RIP Norio Shioyama

No living the good life entry this week, my friends. Someone I look up to, Norio Shioyama died in a fire recently.

Norio Shioyama was the character designer for one of my favorite anime, Armored Trooper VOTOMs, along with other important ones, like Daitarn 3 and Ronin Warriors. In my case, though, I knew him primarily for VOTOMs, as Chirico Cuvie held (and still holds) a special place in my heart as one of the most compelling male heroes of any anime (mecha or not) I’ve seen. Shioyama’s art played no small part in his success, at least for me. I mean, there are obviously a ton of other compliments I could pay Shioyama, like the diversity of his character designs (he’s great at drawing faces that are actually distinctive, rather than cookie-cutter generic like many anime characters these days), his knack for expression, and his ability to impart a quasi-religious grandeur to scenes of military action, but the way Chirico Cuvie’s been portrayed in Shioyama’s art hits the spot for me.

A quick primer (without spoilers): Chirico, the protagonist of Armored Trooper VOTOMs, is a young soldier in a war-torn galaxy who has been profoundly scarred by his terrible experiences. He’s stoic by nature, but the horrifying violence he’s seen, and the atrocities he’s witnessed (and been a part of) have made it very difficult for him to express emotion or get close to people and trust them–he has few friends, and has trouble holding on to those few. But he is fiercely loyal to those friends, and he does have a strong sense of justice combined with an introspective, perceptive, and sensitive streak that comes out in his internal monologues, along with a beautiful capacity for romance and tenderness that’s expressed in his actions, not his words.

Shioyama managed to capture all of that in his art.

Chirico in the helmet

You can see this in the more famous and notable pictures of Chirico that Shioyama drew, like the one for the 90s Original Video Animation, called Armored Trooper VOTOMs: The Shining Heresy I posted above. Chirico’s eyes are one of the first things, if not the first things, that draw the viewer’s attention. Chirico is surrounded by violence or fire, and his expression is dark, almost never happy (in the actual anime, he only smiles or laughs a couple of times). However, there’s no hatred or fear in his expression. He’s looking at the viewer, but also seemingly beyond them, his eyes clear and focused. In short, he looks as if he’s been scarred by his tough life–but not deformed or twisted by it, as his vision is still unclouded, illustrating his stoicism and ability to see beyond his experiences.

That’s the sort of idea that really resonates with me, both in terms of my creative writing as well as in my personal life. Shioyama’s image of stoic Chirico stayed with me as I wrote Wayward Son, providing an idea of what the protagonist (Renault) should have been like (in the story), and eventually became. And that image of stoicism continues to be an inspiration for me today, reminding me not to get bent out of shape over what I experience or what I see in the news. Even if I never dealt with anything as cruel as the trials Chirico’s been through, keeping his face in my mind helps remind me that whatever harsh experiences I endure can only really break me if they make me lose my cool. As long as I can look beyond them, I’ll always be able to move past them.

It’s a strange thing–being inspired so much by just the appearance of a hero from an anime. But that Shioyama was able to do so is testament to his skill as an artist. And it’s also the reason I’ll be raising a toast to him tonight. Rest in peace, man. The joy and inspiration your art has given me, and millions of other VOTOMs and anime fans across the globe, will be a legacy no fire will ever be able to burn.


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