Saturday 30 June 2012

Huke's "BLK" (Artbook) Regular Ver.

I have never experienced a heart attack, nor do I ever wish to, but I like to imagine it feels like learning of the release of Huke's BLK - sudden shortness of breath, dizziness and massive heart palpitations.

Huke is an artist that's known even when he's not known. Undoubtedly you have all seen his work. After all, he managed to start an entire franchise with a picture. I mean, how is that even feasible? He must be crazy. And he is, artwise. In a totally good way.

BLK is huge, so when I bring it up in conjuction with the word "goliath", I mean it literally. The artbook is so hefty it can probably substitute as a cudgel. The struggle to have it shipped via SAL almost had my account banned at HLJ (ok, so it didn't have anything to do with the book and everything to do with trying to order stuff from a different country than they're used to...but still).

At 240 pages, every single one of them coloured, BLK is one of the most commercial and well-produced artbooks I have in my collection. It's hardcover and heavy, and by "heavy" I mean a kilo and a half plus a bit (my scale tips it at a little over 1600g). The paper quality is glossy and spectacularly thick. You wouldn't want a papercut from this artbook. It might never go away.

BLK contains most of Huke's artistic career and then some. This beast of a book is divided into four beastly sections, Black Rock Shooter, Black Rock Shooter Beast, Steins;Gate, and Other.

We start with Black Rock Shooter. It spans 79 pages and features an abundance of beautiful two-page spreads. The sheer stunning visual pleasure of these early spreads are beyond words. They enbody everything I love about Huke's work, texture, character design, grimy atmosphere, and more. And yet I can't help wonder how BLK would function with fewer two-page spreads and more two-page fold outs. The book has excellent integrity. Its spine is probably stronger than mine, but because it is, the binding eats up some of each spread and gives all two-pagers a punched-in-the-gut appearance. I've decided I don't really like that. It feels like I'm being robbed. By a book.

Then again, BLK needs a solid spine to support its heft. If it were floppy, I would complain even harder. Such is the nature of back-handed compliments.

We may never know what story Huke had in mind when he created BRS. She has been adopted into so many universes with so many plots that she might as well be a guest star jumping from show to show. Personally, I always imagined her to be a part of some dystopian epic filled with explosions and rotting cities, rather than a gratuitous friendship metaphor. Although the truth of her origin may forever remain a mystery, one thing is clear: BRS and her wee booty shorts look good in any universe.

I am tempted to call Huke's art monochromatic or stark, but it's not. I hadn't noticed how much colour was in each piece until I had the book in hand. Taken as a whole, it's actually quite vibrant. Naturally, it's not as rainbow flavoured as some other artbooks, but there's enough in colour in there to stop it from being a dump of grimy grey pictures. This will become more apparent as we move onto Steins;Gate.

I am also tempted to call his style high-contrast, but he clearly includes more depth in his pieces than many of the high-contrast artists I follow. What's wrong with my impressions? They're all wrong!

Naturally, there are one-page spreads as well. I do favour one-page spreads since they remain unmolested by binding, but I'll also admit they don't have the sheer wow power of two-pagers.

The backdrop to most Huke's pictures is black. Soemtimes there are white borders, but only ocassionally. Borders vary in size, but are rarely excessive or dominating. In this manner, BLK is well optimized in arrangement. I find the black lends the book a classier feel, but it's also prone to getting fingerprints.

While BLK features all members of the Black Rock Shooter world, BRS herself is clearly the star of this section. She shows up in 47/71 pages, which, to those proficient in quick math, rounds up to 66.2% of the section. As much as I like Black Rock Shooter and her apathetic dolly face, I almost wish there were spreads designated to other characters. For her role in the series, Dead Master is dreadfully shafted, starring in only 15 pages, which is too bad, since her original design is one of my favourites.

Huke has a wonderful way of making hair lustrous and oily (by which I mean "like an oil painting" rather than greasy), and of course, dem hypnotic eyes.

Besides the commercial Black Rock Shooter works everyone is familiar with, BLK also sneaks in a few new pieces, such as a surprise picture of Mato. 

I'm a huge fan of perspective, and being unable to reproduce it in any artwork of my own, always think highly those who can portray dramatic perspectives. This being said, strange or dynamic angles just don't seem to be Huke's main thing. Sure there are action shots here and there, but most of his angles are safe and comfortable. On the bright side, Black Rock Shooter's world sure looks windy. There's a lot of touseled hair in this section.

The picture of Dead Master on the left is one of my favourites. She looks so carefree in that undoubtedly caustic cloud.

BLK has excellent backdrops. If I were to describe Huke's work in one word, it would be "grungy", but if I were to describe my favourite aspect of his work, it would be "atmosphere". The checkered, dusty feel of his pictures not only lends a dystopian feel to his worlds, but helps maintain consistency throughout this section. You'll notice both Black Rock Shooter and Steins;Gate have distinctly different feels.

BLK is an artbook with very few concept pieces, and even when they're sketches they're not exactly rough. In the entirety of this section, there are perhaps five or six concept pages, once again lending to the book's professional allure.

I personally hope to see more of Black Devil Girl. Glasses are sexy.

Before we get to Steins;Gate, BLK also has a short (very short) section on Black Rock Shooter Beast. It's just 6 pages, and one of them is a promo for the figma.

The only full picture of the section, seriously.
This section was clearly produced to promote BLK and the exclusive BRSB figma that came alongside (which I did not buy since her clunky armour and construction paper crown went against everything I imagine BRS to be).

The only true picture of this section is the one to the left. The rest includes one picture of the figma, one page of blank grunge nothingness, and two pages of concept art. Am I a little disappointed at the blatant commercial vibe of this section? A bit, but not too much. After all, 6/240 pages really isn't enough commercialization to piss me off, and it's not like other artbooks don't do the same thing (oh wait, most of them don't).

The next section of BLK is Steins;Gate, Huke's second big commercial project. This section spans pages 90 - 159 and does not differ much from the previous section in terms of picture arrangement and style.

While BRS is a mess of indecisiveness, Steins;Gate knows exactly what it's doing (which could explain the dismal ratings for BRS and the exultant ones for SG).

I promised myself I would watch Steins;Gate a while ago, and lo and behold, I reneged almost immediately. Not that I'm disinterested. I'm just lazy, and have a short attention span.

Again, two-page spreads are beautifully rampant.

Upon turning into this section, the first thing I'm struck by is it's relative lightness compared to the previous section. Huke's Steins;Gate art leans towards a brighter palette and incorporates more colour.

Huke is the almighty Great One of Grunge. Some will revel in his style, others will not. I happen to love the filthy, back-alley feeling of grunge. It's dirty and delicious, but at about page 125, an astonishing thought popped into my head. Maybe 240 pages is too much grunge, I thought. Maybe, it would be nice to see some variety. Shocking, I know. I had, apparently, hit a grunge wall.

Yes, grunge lends itself to dark backgrounds and gross browns and greys, but when we're looking at a bright, sunny beach scene, it begins to feel out of place. Right around this time I closed the book and took a break. Was I experiencing Huke overload? I totally was. I felt like I had eaten one too many ice cream sandwiches, and although I wasn't feeling bad yet, I wasn't feeling too good either.

The best thing about this picture is Rintaro's silhouette in the background.
Still, the professionalism of the artbook continued to impress me. I was tired of grunge, but I was at least able to appreciate the objective production value of the book. Steins;Gate has zero pages I consider concept art. Every single picture is professionally finished and filled with colour. Some may just be headshots, but they are crisp and finished headshots.

Kurisu being gorgeous, as usual.
I find the designs in Steins;Gate less interesting than the ones in BRS for obvious reasons. Steins;Gate clearly depicts a modern age where armour and claws are out of fashion. Still, each character appears in several different attractive outfits, adding more visual versatility to this section than BRS's.

Of all the fancy mechanics of BRS and loopsy time travel of Steins;Gate, the simple picture of Kurisu in her purple dress is one of my favourites. 

Finally, we get to the last section. Other ranges from 160 - 240 pages. It includes all the pieces that did not fit into any other category, and falls back into a distinctly dystopian atmosphere. This section is also more diverse in terms of subject, with loli girls and their oversized weapons, masked men, concept art, fantasy pieces and mecha/robot designs. For me this was the least interesting section (BRSB doesn't count as a section), simply because I'm not all that attracted to gasmasks, but I guess it can hold a certain appeal.

Incidentally, I always considered Dragon Slayer a part of the Black Rock Shooter world.

A lot of pieces in Others have a rougher, sketchier look. Even double page spreads (like Maid Gunner) retain an unfinished quality that isn't present in Black Rock Shooter or Steins;Gate.

It's too bad Huke didn't bother to include more fanart in BLK. To think, 240 pages would be enough for a couple of - oh hey, it's yandere Rei! As far as I can tell, she's the only character to be immortalized by Huke. And gee, take a look at all that grey and red. Bril'.

Anyone know where the girl and her fat cat comes from? Give me a shout if you do.

And thus concludes our quick and sweet overlook of BLK, possibly the heaviest muthafudger of an artbook I have ever seen.

Despite some burnout halfway through this artbook, BLK was an easy book to pick up. I knew I would buy it as soon as it was announced. In some sense it saved me a great deal of financial pain. I was just about to begin hunting for all Huke's doujinshi work, a quest that would have set me back a couple hundred dollars at least. Although BLK doesn't feature all the pieces included in his doujinshi (and they are super gorgeous), I daresay having 240 pages of concentrated Huke is more than satisfactory. Just having the Black Rock Shooter section alone would have already been satisfactory.

The conclusion for Huke's BLK is equally easy: Great stuff, buy now. At times the grundge does become a one-trick pony, but it's hardly enough to deter me from enjoying the book. Yes, I would have liked to see more variety (and maybe more fanart), but hey, when something works, it works, and when it works brilliantly, I can't really complain.

BLK is probably sold out on most import sites now, but if you're able to find it, I feel compelled to warn you about shipping. In the days before I purchased this goliath I went around doing research. Turns out the only online shop willing to ship this beast by SAL was HLJ. EMS on this baby is a no-no, unless you're willing to dish out another 3000 yen. As gorgeous as this artbook is, I don't think I would have picked it up if I were forced to EMS it.

Size: A4 (approx. 12" x 8.5")
Pages: 240
Price: 3200 yen
Purchased from: HLJ



  1. Como consigo esse livro?
    Anny Lee - facebook

    1. Hi Anny,

      Excuse me answering in English, but my handle of Portuguese is very poor.

      This book is currently sold out in stores. Chances are, you will not be able to get it new. Your best chance to search websites that sell used items, such as Mandarake, Rakuten, or eBay (be careful with eBay though, there are lots of bootlegs). Your other option is to use a proxy (such as FromJapan) to buy it from individual sellers.