Otakon 2018 Interview: Kawamori Shoji

This interview was conducted at Otakon 2018 in Washington, DC.

In your anime, you often visit the theme of love as power, or the power of love, even in your mecha and science fiction settings such as Macross, Escaflowne, and Aquarion. What draws you to this subject?

I always wanted to be original, and not like others. In previous science fiction anime, having love in the main theme was unheard of. You’d have love among the sub-characters, but not with the principle ones. So it’s something I always wanted to incorporate.

My next question is about Macross 7. I find the characters of Basara and Sivil have a unique relationship or a special connection. How would you describe their relationship in the story?

If you look at the character of Nekki Basara himself, he is unique in all of the Macross series. I thought it would not be fitting for him to be engaged in just a normal love affair, and he should have something that transcends love—like a resonance or clash of souls. The director of Macross 7, Amino Tetsurou, is someone who values the idea of passion, over any sort of details. It would just be a story of souls clashing.

I noticed in your credits that you worked on Toushou Daimos as a mechanical designer. Did you have an opportunity to work with Director Nagahama directly, and if so, do you have any memories of him?

I didn’t have much opportunity to speak to Director Nagahama on Daimos. Of course, I met him, but most of the interaction was through reading and looking at the storyboards that he draw. I did the designs through that. I really got to talk to him more on Ulysses 31. He was quite the gentleman, and he had a real passion for incorporating and valuing drama in his stories.

You’ve designed many mecha for decades—for toy lines, for kids, for adults, and even for video games. What changes in your design process and thought process according to the type of project?

This is something I value so much that I would take an hour or two to talk about it in detail. I look at the worldview of the work, the setting, and the target audience—for example, if it’s a toy, what would be the age range? Those are all the important considerations: market, target, theme, and the worldview. Those are the principle elements that go into the design, and after I have that down, the rest comes more easily.

To pick a specific example, I really enjoy your designs in Eureka Seven. What particular concerns did you take into account for that project?

When I first received the order for Eureka Seven mecha design, the initial order was to have a transforming mecha from automobile form to humanoid. But since that was something I’ve done so many times, I didn’t think I could do anything new.

I held the world-building meeting with Director Kyoda and the principle writer, Sato Dai, and they told me that in the Eureka Seven world, they’re in a world saturated by trapar particles that allow ships to float, and that’s how travel is done. And I thought, if these particles allow large ships to float, I can easily envision them as waves, so you can have mecha that use the waves to float. Director Kyoda liked the idea, and once the concept of surfing was in, the actual design was easy.

While you’re better known for your accomplishments in science fiction and mecha, you also worked on a show called Anyamaru Tantei Kiruminzoo. It’s quite outside of your usual genres or wheelhouse. How did you come around to being on this project?

For me, since I’m known as a mecha designer, most clients tend to bring me that kind of work. But I always want to try out something new, and communication with animals is something I’ve always been interested in. So, in Anyamaru Tantei Kiruminzoo, we have a girl who would transform and communicate with animals. But in normal magical girl series, when you have a girl transform into a magical girl, she would become invincible. I didn’t want that. I wanted someone who would be more different from a human with human abilities. So I pitched the idea and fortunately, that’s how we got the show.

This is my last question. Traditionally, it hasn’t been common for non-Japanese artists to work on anime aside from the outsourcing done in South Korea, but Satelight has hired artists such as Thomas Romain and Stanislas Brunet. How did Satelight bring them aboard, and what is it like working with foreign artists?

That goes back to me and Macross with the concept of “deculture.” I’m very fond of the differences in cultures, because we all grew up in different backgrounds. We might be fond of the same things, but we might have different ideas and concepts about those same things. That’s great inspiration for myself, and it’s very enjoyable working with foreign artists at Satelight.

Satelight’s parent company is an IT company. As such, it’s always had a corporate culture that’s open to working with foreign employees. So, our current president, Sato Michiaki, never had any issues employing non-Japanese artists.

Thank you!

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An Acquired Taste that Gets Better with Time: Mysterious Joker

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A comedy/adventure anime about a phantom thief named Joker and his bumbling ninja sidekick, Mysterious Joker (also known simply as Joker) is one of many anime derived from the Arsene Lupin-inspired archetype. In fact, this anime began the same season as a similar show, Magic Kaito 1412, and in that respect Mysterious Joker initially seems pretty unremarkable. Having watched the first 4 episodes, however, I noticed a couple of interesting qualities about the series. First, is that the visual designs of its characters are really indicative of a comics lineage that gets somewhat less attention from English-speaking audiences. Second, is that each episode has been better than the last.

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In regards to the first point, I’m referring to the fact that Mysterious Joker was originally a children’s manga. However, when people talk about a category like “shounen,” they probably think of series like Dragon Ball or Naruto. Though titles like those are indeed meant for children, what some might be unaware of is that there are also manga magazines dedicated to very young kids, and chief among them is Corocoro Comics. This is where Mysterious Joker (created by Takahashi Hideyasu) comes from, and while the anime cleans up the look of the characters for consistency (generally a must when it comes to commercial animation), their appearances remain colorful and bombastic, with large facial features beyond even what people typically expect out of anime.

The reason why I bring all of this up is that I think it can make Mysterious Joker feel somewhat odd even for those who are accustomed to most other anime that are targeted towards children, as many of them, even if they do not expect an additional older readership, have qualities that almost inherently appeal to a roughly 15-21 demographic. This is not to say that Mysterious Joker is a show that can only be enjoyed by kids, as it can be quite clever in how its mysteries and puzzles play out, and the humor is delightfully crass at times without being crude, but it requires on some level an acknowledgement that it is indeed a kids’ show and that older viewers may not even be taken into consideration. I think this can be a sticking point for a lot of anime fans, particularly teenagers, and so enjoying Mysterious Joker, even on a basic level, requires something of an open mind.

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As for the second point, which is about how the show seems to improve with every episode, it’s as if each episode adds a bit more to the story and the world of its characters, and motivates viewers to keep watching. I originally planned on stopping at Episode 3, but then saw the reveal of a female rival phantom thief, which compelled me to see how that turns out. Episode 4 doesn’t feature her in any way, but it explores the friendly rivalry between the main character and another established in the previous episode, and in doing so gives even more reason to keep watching.

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I looked up the staff for Mysterious Joker and was surprised to see that Satou Dai of all people is responsible for series composition. While I can’t say how much of the story’s quality comes from the original manga and how much Satou himself is a factor, from my experience with his work I think you get a true sense of what it means to be responsible for series composition. Eureka Seven, another show of his, builds upon itself beautifully. Satou wasn’t around for the sequel, Eureka Seven AO, and it really shows. A more relevant work of his Battle Spirits: Shounen Toppa Bashin, which took the humble card game anime and made it into something more substantial and mature, yet still very attuned to its young audience. While I’ve not seen all of Mysterious Joker, I would not be surprised if it ends up developing in a similar way.