The Ukiyo-e, or 'Floating World', art genre flourished in Japan from the 17th through 19th centuries. Produced on woodblock prints the paintings depicted female beauties; kabuki actors and sumo wrestlers; historical scenes; heroes from folk tales; travel scenes and natural landscapes; and erotic scenes. As an art movement, it was vivid and full of life, expressing the hedonistic and indulgent attitude of a rising middle class.
Ukiyo-e Heroes is a company that produces art in this style by Jed Henry, that draws inspiration from modern pop culture, and a big part of that naturally comes from video games. The artist is true to the Ukiyo-e style, so it can take a few seconds to recognize your favorite 8-bit heroes in there, but once you see, you can't unsee it.
Check out some of our favorites below...
There's really no mistaking this one, with so many of the game motifs well represented yet seamlessly integrated into the aesthetics of the Floating World. Rickshaw Mario Kart actually seems like it would be a great game in itself, and I absolutely love Mario's facial expression, reminiscent of depictions of gods and samurai heroes.
The Starfox crew races through the night as mythological heroes, complete with historical clothing patterns and weapons. If anything, they look way more badass than the actual game characters.
Battle in the Bath House
There's so much to love in this that I hardly know where to begin. I mean, a Street Fighter battle royale scene is already awesome on its own, but the dynamism of the scene is striking. There's a lot going on and it's hard to pick a favorite moment, but I'm going to have to go with Dhalsim's kick crossing to the next panel and Sagat's hilarious post-impact facial gurn.
The Hero Rests
A tribute to those rare moments in video games where the weary protagonist can stop, relax and contemplate; this tranquil scene depicts Legend of Zelda hero Link jamming on that ocarina under Autumn leaves.
Pocketing a Wager
Here's a fantastic scene inspired by the Pokemon games and featuring characters from the animated series, like Ash Ketchum and Team Rocket. The naturalistic Pokemon forms highlight the weird, somewhat sinister cock-fighting aspect of Pokemon, and the wicker-basket pokeballs are a really cute touch.
I choose you
The Pokemon here are just a little more cartoonish than the above, and if anything a little more cute than their anime versions.
My favorite detail here in this Metroid tribute is the Chinese-style arm cannon. Samus-as-samurai looks ace -- now there's a good alternate costume idea.
Barrel and Hammer
Samurai hero Mario is back and this time it's on like Donkey Kong. Yet another depiction that I think would be great for a visually re-imagined game.
Mario's great rival Sonic the Hedgehog also gets the samurai treatment in this great tribute to the Genesis games. Details like the loop-the-loop, Sonic's ring necklace and the rabbit jumping out of the slain enemy really make the picture for me, but can they really run so fast in those wooden shoes?
Cracking the Egg
More Sonic the Hedgehog goodness showing the downfall of egg-themed evil scientist Dr. Robotnik, The bottom right kanji are a cute poetic touch from the artist, loosely meaning "Flying blue, breaker of chains."
In this Megaman scene, gaming's other classic blue hero looks amazing in riveted samurai armor, battle mask and sweet-looking hand cannon. Mega Man's gun is full of great little details like the firing chain, and its resemblance to an oni's iron club.
Hunter and Executioner
The artist shows great creative instincts and attention to detail here in this Dark Souls scene, converting the European medieval style armor to an East Asian aesthetic without breaking the signature looks of the characters.
I can get behind this dark rendition of Kirby 100%
We think that artist Jed Henry's interpretations of video game characters are beautiful, but that's not all he does, and you should definitely check out his work, which includes comic book heroes as well as original designs, at his store here.