|Game: Various||Release: 1978 – 2001(?)||Platform: –||Creative Director: –|
While scouring the internet for the last article on Namco, I was derailed for a significant period of time gawking at old arcade flyers. The art of the time period (roughly 1977-1987) is simultaneously nostalgic and a big influence for me. In my random click-fest, I happened across a flyer for the game ‘Crazy Climber’ and noticed almost immediately a logo I was not familiar with.
Nichibutsu, proper name Nihon Bussan Kabushikigaisha, is an arcade game manufacturer that seems to have once enjoyed a moderate level of popularity in the early 1980s before an output of strip-mahjongg titles. Looking at their list of games, I can say I’ve maybe heard one or two the titles in passing (Moon Cresta stands out), and I know with certainty that I have never seen their logo before.
|Nichibutsu Logo (horizontal, from flyer)||Nichibutsu complete mark (vertical, recreated)|
I was immediately drawn to it for a variety of reasons. These flyers -especially in the earlier days when arcades were still full of the redemption, crane, and pinball games (actual games that exist in the physical world) – were primarily targeted at business owners and operators. They were designed to quickly deliver the reasons and the motive for owning the displayed product. In short, there were not designed with a lot of care in mind other than to display the machine, a few call-to-action items (#1 rated redemption game!), and provide the contact information for where an arcade operator could obtain the game.
|Blockade US Flyer (1977)
Many of these companies had forgettable, prototypically bland names: Meadows Games, Ramtek Corporation, Exidy, Nutting Associates, and Mirco Games (not a typo). Often, this company name was simply imprinted on the rear of the flyer, near the bottom, without any particular call-out or special attention paid to it. Occasionally you will find companies using specialized typefaces (ex: Meadow’s classically retro 70s script font) or logos that when reduced to fit on a single-page flyer, become quite unintelligible to discern (Mirco Games). Their lack of artistic license, forethought, and oftentimes baffling placement really help to bury these logos amongst the information overload these flyers throw at the viewer.
|Bombs Away US Flyer – manufactured by Meadows (1976)
||Dawn Patrol US Flyer – manufactured by Mirco Games (not a typo) (1978)
The logo for Nichibutsu then, immediately caught my eye. Its bold (literally) use of the Univers typeface and simple, stylized yellow owl graphic definitely stand apart from the endless stream of “_________ Games” and “__________ Industries” no-name entities. It appears to be a mark actually designed to brand and identify a company; rather than chosen from a book of clipart or a list of fonts. Its almost as if the company actually wants you to look at it and remember the name.
|Crazy Climber flyer (1980)|
Recreating the Logo
The logo, in its reduced simplicity and sharp angles, contains nothing particularly exciting or revelatory about its construction. Given the mark’s pure symmetry, it was easily a case of tracing one half of the owl’s body, eyes, and triangular demarcations of ‘feathers’ and then flipping it across the y-axis. When creating the area around the eyes and the eyes themselves, I came to realize that like the Witches’ Mark from Bayonetta, the Nichibutsu owl is largely based on the inter-relation of circles producing both overlapped and negative spaces. Below you can see just how the various curves and circles that comprise the mark are related:
|Inter-relation of circles in Owl character”|
It is impossible to know if this is how the original designer approached this mark or if it is simply a coincidence as a result of stylization and typically Japanese “cute” style of the character design.
One small detail that is perhaps lost in the continual re-sizing or actual re-drawing of the mark (there are some instances where this does not appear) is that the “feather” triangles on the owl’s chest are actually of slightly varying sizes.
|Stylized feathers detail|
Whether this was intentional on the part of the original designer to lend a sense of depth or variation to the ‘feathers’ on the owl’s body or simply an error is unclear. It was just something peculiar I noticed about the mark.
The word Nichibutsu is set in Univers Black, one of several fonts in the Univers family that enjoyed popularity in the 1960s and 70s, most likely on the rise in usage of the similarly styled Helvetica. It’s appearance is a little rare if only because many companies of the 1970s and 80s that manufactured video games and related products utilized typefaces that appeared (at the time) to be more ‘computer’ or ‘futuristic’ than something trendy and clean like Univers.
|Univers 55 Roman sample|
Univers enjoys a wide range of uses today; most notably employed for TV network on-screen graphics and several transportation usages. This is mostly due to Univers ability to be seen over long distances and retain its clean lines and readability.
It has only been within the last 10-15 years that gaming platforms have been able to display “real” fonts. Typically fonts and typefaces found in even the earliest games to some launch-era Playstation titles utilized reduced, pixelated typefaces that fit within the small resolution dimensions of their respective platforms. Anything more complicated was typically drawn in as a graphic and not placed with a text tool or character set.
|Crazy Climber 2 Title Screen||Moon Cresta gameplay||UFO Robo Dangar Title Screen|
Here we can see that for whatever reason – be it attention to detail, artistic license, or sheer narcissism over their brand identity – the designers at Nichibutsu routinely implemented a faked, blocky version of their company name in the Univers typeface into their releases. I can’t say that their commitment to detail helped the success of the company, but I find their attempts fascinating and for the limited scope of space and resolution, quite accurate.
So what does Nichibutsu mean?
Short answer: I don’t know.
Long answer: After my poorly-guided attempts to translate and asking a native Japanese-speaker, the name is a rough portmanteau of words signifying “the sun” and “buddhism”. So, in addition to the seemingly random choice of an owl, I still don’t know.
Today many game publishers and development studios have logos and identities that are as recognizable as the franchises and games they produce. It was nice to see this artistic spirit was alive in the formative days of the medium, when games were viewed more as a commodity to be bought and sold and judged primarily on their ability to generate income rather than provide an experience.
For posterity’s sake, here are some other instances of the Nichibutsu logo and a slight re-purposing of the owl shape for a numbering system their Japanese releases used for a time:
|Nichibutsu logo w/ different line weight on eyes||White variation of the owl character||Super F1 Circus SFC w/ numbering system||Super F1 Limited SFC w/numbering system|
Arcade flyers courtesy of: The Arcade Flyers Archive
Nichibutsu and related works © 2001-2003 Nihon Bussan Co., Ltd. (C) 2001-2003 Nihon Bussan Co., Ltd. All rights reserved. All works of art depicted and recreated have been done so in an academic pursuit to foster discussion and better understand the process of their creation. Any and all rights are held by their original creators. Visual Attack Formation does not utilize these works for commercial or financial gain. Please contact Visual Attack Formation if you are a representative of a publisher or developer and feel that your work has been infringed upon.