Secret of Mana Redux

Interview with Rhett Whittington #1


Interview with Rhett Whittington #1

February 28, 2021

This was originally published on the Secret of Mana: Redux blog on May 12, 2020.

The cover of the Art of Mana

The cute fantasy element kinda beats out Final Fantasy for me!

Rhett Whittington

It’s been three months since the Art of Mana oversized book was released, and naturally, it’s taken me that long to get a review going.  Today, we’re going to be joined by the illustriously talented artist, Rhett Whittington, and talk about one of the neatest non-game releases in Mana series history.  Next time, Mr. Whittington will share his art with us, which spans several games of the series.

First, some vitals on the book.  It was originally published in Japan in 2018, and this translation was released for English-speaking markets in February of 2020.  It is billed as a 25th anniversary book (the first game actually came out in 1991), but another likely catalyst for its creation was the release of three major projects in the span of a few years—Adventures of Mana in 2016, followed by Secret of Mana in 2018 and Trials of Mana in 2020.  It is reminiscent of the Final Fantasy Ultimania books that I highly recommend if you’re a fan of that series (which, you almost certainly are).  Featured are poster style page spreads, character art, conceptual art, and commentary on how the aesthetic of each element developed.  It measures 12.2″ by 8.8″ and has a production value that does its contents justice—heavy, glossy paper stock and high quality reproductions of the art.  In addition, it features interviews with the Mana series’ creators.

The official character art of Secret of Mana on the Super Nintendo
The official SNES character art of Secret of Mana: three clay figures and a fluffy Flammie toy! They could only be posed one way. Sadly, these seem to have been lost to time.

All right, Rhett, thank you for taking some time out of your quarantine adventure to talk about the Art of Mana.  How many Mana games have you played?

All of them except for the mobile games, Rise of Mana and Friends of Mana.  The cute fantasy element kinda beats out Final Fantasy for me! *laughs* Behind Castlevania, I would say this is my second favorite game series.

I had never even heard of Friends of Mana until you mentioned it just now! Sadly, I have only played Secret of Mana and the fan translation of Trials of Mana some time around 2003.  I tried again recently, and just couldn’t get into it.  Perhaps my years of working with Secret of Mana has made it hard to branch out.

Back to the book, what are some things that jumped out at you right away?

I loved how it’s divided up by game.  The amount of sketches and artwork I had not seen before was pretty amazing.  A lot of it gave me some really cool ideas for new bits of art I would like to do.  Particularly Legend of Mana.  That section seemed the most robust.  Probably because the game has so many unique and interesting characters.

Legend of Mana is your favorite, right?

Yep.  Well…it was until I played the original Trials of Mana about two years ago.  Legend of Mana is kind of an oddball in the series now.  I didn’t realize that at first.  It is so different gameplay and story-wise.  I assumed a lot of stuff in that game were mainstays of the series but they weren’t!

I believe the art style and characters were very popular, because we have seen them reappear in newer Mana games.  Even this new Trials of Mana game features a cute treasure hunt with Little Cactus from LoM.

It also lacks the elementals that seem to be in every game.  You have the day of the week cycle “Gnome day”, “Salamando day”, etc. and your different elemental magic and stuff is stronger on those days but aside from that, they weren’t in it at all.  I didn’t really get to see the Mana spirits/elementals until I played Sword of Mana for GBA.

Though back to the Legend of Mana section, it was cool to finally get a good detailed look at some of those obscure looking characters and find out more about them.

Was there anything that jumped out in the LoM art that you didn’t know before? 

It was cool to learn that Niccolo’s design was based off of the Japanese version of the character’s name “Nikita”…so the artist thought it had a Latino sound to it.  That’s where the whole design of Poncho and Sombrero came from!  (Niccolo is my favorite character in the Mana series.)

Preview of the Art of Mana

Shinichi Kameoka was the artist for LoM?

Yes, and I really like the overall storybook feel that his art gives.  His characters can be anime and cool, but still feel kind of cute and kid friendly.  There’s a familiar kind of sentimental feeling you get with his backgrounds and art.  Funny as it sounds, it reminds me a lot of the Winnie the Pooh or Teddy Ruxpin cartoons from my childhood and his art style brings up those warm fuzzy feelings of wonder and excitement.  If that makes sense!

That’s why it was cool to finally read some info on Friends of Mana.  It was done in almost exactly the same art style by the same artist.

Preview of the Art of Mana

I really like the high quality reproductions of Hiroo Isono’s posters. There’s the infamous box art for Secret of Mana and the poster of the Mana Tree from that game.  He also created art for Trials of Mana and Dawn of Mana in the same style. Sadly, he did not make one for Legends of Mana, perhaps that style wouldn’t fit?

Hiroo Isono’s works look amazing! I would love to have a big 24×36 pic of one of his works of the Mana Tree. 

I think his art could have fit. At least like a cover or insert. I don’t think it would have contrasted badly with Kameoka’s character artwork, even though they are quite different.

I’m not sure if you’ve seen the Final Fantasy Ultimania series, but this book is reminiscent of those.  Ultimania had a lot more material about the development of the games, and just a greater quantity and diversity of things in general.  So that’s one of the reasons I was disappointed that the SNES Secret of Mana section had nothing new along the lines of game development. We do get a few tidbits about how the characters developed, but that’s about it.  The most significant release in series history gets five pages out of over two hundred that only features art we’ve seen for 25 years! 

Yeah.  It sucked there wasn’t really anything I hadn’t seen before for Secret of Mana artwork.  I had hoped for more art and sketches from the original Trials Of Mana too.  But I wonder if since those were older games, they didn’t get much original art done aside from the remake’s art (which I really love!)

Official Art of Randi for the mobile version of Secret of Mana
Mobile Randi

I thought it was a bit strange that the PC remake’s characters were reduced in height from the mobile port.  I actually like those renditions the best.

Oh, wow!  I never knew the characters were reduced in height/size for the PC port!  I just looked up pics!  That is actually kinda cool. I like them like that better! It’s surprising they did that.

I’m very fond of the new art for the Imperial henchman, as well as the comment about the huge shoulder pads that were in for bad guys in ’93.  *laughs*  I find it ironic that Sheex is depicted as the dark knight with his dark sword, which is still not mentioned in the actual game.  Another thing that jumps out at me is how the games all seem to have the same general characters that change a bit each time.  Nothing is a sequel to anything else, they’re all spiritual siblings.

I also like that none of the games are really sequels to each other.  It’s kind of similar to the Zelda series.  For example, my fiancée just began playing Trials of Mana (and is loving it!) but she was hesitant to try it at first, never having played any other games in the series.  That was until I explained it’s like Zelda or Final Fantasy, where each entry is pretty much it’s own story.  I think that makes it a bit more accessible and creates strong fan bases for the various games in the series.

I like the new artwork and designs for Secret of Mana a lot!  Sheex does look cool!  Though I wish the adults would have looked more….detailed?  Or “adulty” *laughs* rather than the style where they all just have large cartoony heads.  (I fixed this with my art of Jema in my Secret of Mana poster…his body is proportional!)

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