Akira Yasuda (better known by his pen name “akiman”) is the character designer for Turn A Gundam. He is well-known for his various design roles in video games, notably the Street Fighter series. He has also been involved in anime linked to director Yoshiyuki Tomino, such as Turn A Gundam, King Gainer, and Gundam Reconguista in G. I had the opportunity to meet akiman at Anime Expo in 2016, and I was blessed with yet another opportunity at this year’s Anime Expo.
In 2016 akiman visited on behalf of Square-Enix to promote the then-recent release of Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness, the fifth installment to the Star Ocean series, where he served as character designer. He held autograph sessions in which he signed personal items and drew sketches for fans. He signed my copies of the Turn A Gundam character design book and akiman’s own Turn A Gundam: Wind of the Moon. I was ecstatic to meet him and continuously let him know that he was my favorite character designer. When it came to drawing me a sketch, I brought up Dianna Soreil and he and his handler excitedly responded with “Ah! Dianna-sama, Dianna-sama!” It was really cute. Watching him draw in real-time was surreal; he started with two dots for the eyes and worked his way around that. To top off the experience, he retweeted me and since then I’ve developed a bit of back-and-forth with him. He’ll occasionally respond back to me if I tweet at him, and he’s retweeted me a number of times.
In 2018 akiman once again visited on behalf of Square-Enix, this time to promote the upcoming English release of Star Ocean: Anamnesis, a free-to-play mobile game. He held autograph sessions in which he only signed pre-drawn sketches of Star Ocean characters. When I learned of this, I was disappointed, as I was looking forward to another sketch and intimate interaction. I still obtained tickets for the autograph session, of course. But fate had exciting things in store. I arrived an hour-and-a-half early to the Square-Enix booth and casually ran into akiman himself. I was wearing a Turn A Gundam shirt and he noticed it! We struck up a conversation. I began showing him pictures of my collection of his works. He was impressed by the rare items that I own and was curious to know where I had obtained some of them. I mentioned Yahoo auctions, Amazon Japan, and Mandarake (which he and his handler curiously laughed at! I don’t know why!). They kept calling me a “dai fan”. I then showed him some of my old tweets from 2016 and he recognized them and mentioned how nostalgic this all was. We barely understood each other but somehow held a conversation for about 20 minutes. He then took me ’round the corner to draw me a personal sketch. I asked for Dianna again, of course, this time in a specific outfit. It was a really awesome and humbling experience; he rewarded a big fan with an unplanned sketch.
akiman is the Japanese industry person I’ve interacted with most, and I hope it continues to the stay that way. He’s my favorite character designer and illustrator and also the character designer to my favorite anime. I hope he visits Anime Expo again! Maybe next time I’ll ask him to draw a different character (not).