With permission from © John Hathway

Science, Magic And Moe: An Interview With Japanese Artist John Hathway

John Hathway

John Hathway is perhaps most known for his exquisitely detailed, immersive and information-dense works of art portraying cityscapes which retain some of the familiarity of our existing world yet introduce new layers of reality which blend science and magic, as well as his character designs of beautiful girls.

A truly multi-talented artist, he is also involved in creating and designing everything from novels, games, products, hardware, robotics, software and animation. His background in physics, science and technology informs his creations both on a theoretical and practical level.


Note: Please tap or click on the images below to see them in larger size. John Hathway's illustrations can be very tall and wide. Therefore, in cases where the original exceeds the limits of what we can display, we have provided a link in the captions to the original image on his Pixiv account.


Interview

We had the opportunity to interview John Hathway about his background, his vision and his upcoming work:

Beginnings

grape Japan (gJ): When did you begin drawing illustrations and what motivated you to begin?

John Hathway (JH): I started to draw in junior high school and gradually increased my activities thereafter. In junior high and high school, I went to an all-boys’ school, so I learned about the opposite sex through girls’ manga. This inspired me and I aimed to become a girls’ manga artist, so I began drawing in that style.

At the same time, I also began to develop an interest in UFOs and other technologies appearing in science fiction. I studied all the way up until the time I became a physics researcher, at which point I began drawing illustrations with themes of physics, science and technology.

カガクノオト(魔法町西商店街)The Sound of Science (Mahōchō West Shopping District) | © John Hathway

gJ: Do you have any illustrators or artists you were influenced by?

JH: I don’t have any in particular, although I think I am influenced by Studio Ghibli anime.

中野ブロードチューブ Nakano Broadtube| © John Hathway

Mahōchō series

gJ: Is there a common background setting for your Mahōchō 魔法町 (“Magic City”) series?

JH: Originally, I got interested in the anti-gravity phenomenon known as the Hutchison Effect, and studied physics based on my own experiments. As a result, I imagined that physics and the human psyche could possibly have a certain relationship to each other. Assuming that physics and the human psyche are connected through some kind of mutual relationship, it becomes possible to imagine a new field of science called psycho-physics. To give a concrete example, if telekinesis existed, and if it could be objectively analyzed and given applications in psycho-physics, humans might develop devices to amplify telekinetic energy, thereby allowing anyone to move freely in three-dimensional space as if they had super-powers.

アンナ(真空管ドールズ)Anna (Shinkūkan Dolls) | © John Hathway

If humans could freely move through space, it would be natural for buildings to get taller and for entrances and advertisements to be on higher floors. The urban landscapes I draw are based on such scientific assumptions.

Electric Lolita City | © John Hathway

ウサ耳反重力少女 Rabbit-Eared Anti-Gravity Girl | © John Hathway

Scientific philosophy of information

gJ: On your profile page, you explain that your illustrations exhibit a “structure based on scientific philosophy of information.” Could you explain how this appears in your work?

JH: When I draw illustrations, I aim to maximize the amount of information in order to express and explain my scientific world. Concretely speaking:

  • 1. By adding text information in signs, for example, I try to increase the information expressing my world view through the medium of words.
  • 2. I try to increase the amount of information about the people appearing in my illustrations by using a deformation effect in which their faces appear larger the further they are from the camera.
  • 3. By asymmetrically deforming space, I try to widen specific angles of view and increase spatial information.
  • 4. However, I also curb 1,2, and 3 when needed to maintain the appeal of the characters and to ensure that the whole thing works as an illustration.

These are the conditions I follow when I draw illustrations. The fourth condition conflicts with the other three but it’s like a simultaneous equation. I don’t aim to increase the amount of information unlimitedly.

反重力町 Anti-Gravity City original | © John Hathway

Intersection between magic and science

gJ: Within your illustrations, we often see girls riding broomsticks. Is the force propelling them magic or science? What is the relationship between magic and science in your work?

JH: They are using broomstick-shaped devices developed according to the principles of psycho-physics, just like the setting of the Mahōchō series. Those who are using broomsticks propelled by rocket engines are people whose telekinetic powers are too weak to be amplified.

アメ縦横 Ame-Tateyoko| © John Hathway

Inspiration from traditional Japanese art

gJ: It seems that you were making folding-screen style illustrations up to a few years ago. Will you draw illustrations incorporating traditional Japanese motifs in the future?

JH: Blockchain rakuchū rakugai-zu「ブロックチェーン洛中洛外図」(“Views In And Around Blockchain”), a work which I am currently producing, is a digital folding-screen style illustration expressing the organization of a blockchain system, and I have deliberately included traditional Japanese motifs. It is due to be released on a blockchain system in the near future.

BYOBU livetune another original| © John Hathway

Analog AI

gJ: In your recent work Denji-chō AE「電磁町AE」(“Electromagnetic City AE”), is the girl in the center a robot? Could you tell us your concept for this illustration?

JH: The robots I draw aren’t conventional robots. These robots, like the ones based on psycho-physics in my Mahōchō series, are not “digital AI” created by digital programs like the ones we have in our world today.
They are AI based on an entirely new concept called “analog AI.” Their minds are expressed through highly complex mathematical functions which are reproduced in the analog circuits which they are built on. This setting for my characters is complete, but I have chosen to only reveal them in mysterious ways which leave much to the viewer’s imagination. The underlying theory for this world is something I developed when I was a physics researcher.

電磁町AE Electromagnetic City AE original| © John Hathway

The Shinkūkan Dolls project

gJ: What was your inspiration for the Shinkūkan Dolls project?

JH: Just as in your previous question, the setting for this project is based on “analog AI.” Shinkūkan Dolls was originally something I experimentally created as a doujin card game for Comic Market. Then, it turned into a smartphone game, and they are Virtual Youtubers.

真空管ドールコレクション Shinkūkan Doll Collection original| © John Hathway

Robotic Lolita original| © John Hathway

◆空区 お空場◆真空管ドールズ Sky District Osora-ba (Shinkūkan Dolls) original| © John Hathway

Blockchain and Art

gJ: Can you tell us more about your upcoming blockchain-related project, Blockchain rakuchū rakugai-zu「ブロックチェーン洛中洛外図」(“Views In And Around Blockchain”)?

JH: Blockchain constructs new systems by adding the concept of nodes, miners and cryptographic technology to the normal Web. Through blockchain, systems which make use of ideas like virtual currency have been proposed for guaranteeing security in various fields.
After I learned about the idea of putting data from digital art into a blockchain system, I imagined it might be possible to take layers such as record information and variations and turn them into hashes within the blockchain, thus creating a unique work which would have the characteristics of blockchain order.
This motif is expressed in my work Blockchain rakuchū rakugai-zu「ブロックチェーン洛中洛外図」(“Views In And Around Blockchain”) which addresses the theme of blockchain systems. The work is due to be released on a blockchain system in the near future.

Hardware Creations

Δ-Figure

gJ: Among your hardware creations, you have a series which you describe as “artificial muscle figures.” What is your concept?

JH: In a word, it’s “an intermediary between robot and sculpture.”
The difference between a wax doll and a human being at rest is that while the former remains completely still, the latter continues to make subtle motions. A human being at rest remains in movement, albeit very subtly, and its motions are highly complex. I believe that these subtle yet complex motions characterize all living things. Δ-Figure is the name I have given to these three-dimensional objects which express such motions.
Subtle and complex motions are difficult to express through motors, so I achieved them by developing artificial muscles, a customized circuit and a program. Sculptures stay motionless, robots perform work, but the Δ-Figure does neither. It is truly an intermediary between robot and sculpture.
When I unveiled these works expressing the concept of the Δ-Figure, I intentionally avoided designing their outward form and presented them as stick figures. My reason for doing this was to convey the idea that this concept could not only enable limitless possibilities of expression, it also had the potential to become a next-generation figure format.

© John Hathway

© John Hathway

Vacuum Tube Headphones

gJ: Your “vacuum tube headphones” represent a blend of reality and fiction. Could you tell us what your concept was?

JH: Until now, I’ve bought all kinds of collectors’ items and goods, all of them toys or replicas of gadgets appearing in movies. However, I’ve never been satisfied with them. No matter how detailed they are, replicas are nothing but replicas. So, I wondered if I could make something real, and what I came up with was “vacuum tube headphones.”
According to my background setting, “vacuum tube headphones” are made to function both in our present world and the Mahōchō world of my conception. The setting has it that these headphones can play not only conventional music but also electromagnetic wave music (Dengaku). The headphones’ vacuum tube plugs into a socket which can also be fitted with other tubes. If it is fitted with a music vacuum tube, it will play music, but if it is fitted with a Magic Vacuum Tube (MVT), it will play Dengaku. This MVT cannot be obtained in our present world. However, these headphones with no MVT plugged into them can coherently exist both in our present world and the Mahōchō world.
Three-dimensional goods or collectors’ items are usually made after the works {in which they appear}, so they are necessarily replicas. However, by simultaneously creating hardware and content from my original works, I can make three-dimensional creations without any inconsistencies.

© John Hathway


International activities

gJ: You have exhibited and sold your works in such places as The Netherlands and Italy. Do you have any international plans for the future?

JH: The blockchain work I just described is a worldwide project, for one thing. My original manga work was also recently published in a German book (for Ottobock). My work has also been added to the world’s largest museum collection, so it may be exhibited.

Alice Experiment original| © John Hathway

Looking toward the future

gJ: Do you have anything you’d like to try or a project you’d like to do in the future?

JH: I’m originally a physics researcher and experimenter. I have designed numerous works which fuse a Japanese mode of expression with hardware, technology or programming. I’d like to realize these designs and introduce them to the public. I’m also thinking about collaborations with foreign manufacturers, so if any manufacturers reading this are interested in my work, please contact me!

Magic Rocket Station (another) original | © John Hathway


John Hathway information

Links

Upcoming Events

  • July 1st to 29th: Showing a new work as one of six contemporary artists participating in the Taira no Masakado Exhibition (Kanda Myojin Shrine, Tokyo)
  • August 11th: Booth at Comic Market 96, Day 3, West Hall, Zone A, Booth 15a.

By - Ben K.