Toshihiro Kawamoto @ Sakura-Con 2013
This year at Sakura-Con 2013, Cosplay Victoria was given the opportunity, to be a part of the group press interview with Toshihiro Kawamoto. We took the opportunity and this article is a transcript of that group press interview. Enjoy.
“Hello everyone, I am Toshihiro Kawamoto. This is my second Sakura-Con. I am really looking forward to having a good time and relaxing. I will do a brief introduction and profile. I work for BONES, which is a creation company. As an animator, I was involved with Cowboy Bebop and Wolf’s Rain as the Character designer. I was the Character Animation Director in Space Battleship Yamato 2199 last year and for the later half of last year, I worked on Eureka Seven Ao. I can not announce any titles right now, but there are two things that we are working on, that are unannounced by BONES. I really want to announce these two upcoming titles but unfortunately, we need to put off the announcements a little bit more. So, I won’t be able to answer questions about those and I am really sorry but, if you would like to ask anything about my experience as an animator or about BONES. I will be happy to talk about that.
Thank you very much.”
Question: With your contribution to the Gundam universe and seeing the transition of character designs. For example Mobile Suit Gundam, the original, to Mobile Fighter G Gundam. What are your thoughts about the transition of character design? Is there anything you want back or to improve on?
Kawamoto: Personally I worked on many of those Gundam titles and I think that each character design, kind of, meets the need of that particular era. So, I don’t have any particular regrets or anything, I think that could have been done better for any particular work, if that is what you are asking?
(Questionnaire nodded in agreement)
Each one was suited for that time. For example Star Dust Memories 0083, which was created in the year 1990. Was created in the line or the style of the original Gundam series and it was very well received but six years later. In 1996, with Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team OVA. I participated in the audition but we took a more casual style that was easier for animators to draw, in terms of lines. So we had no particular roles in terms of character design. We tried to meet the needs of that time and what our fans wanted to see.
Kawamoto: Is there any particular favourite Gundam series?
Questionnaire’s reply: Mobile Fighter G Gundam: The East is Burning Red.
Kawamoto: I joined as an animator for the opening and the very last episode. I also did participate in the audition for the character design but that ended up being with someone named Osaka Hiroshi who did the character design.
Question: What were some of the factors that lead you to create Studio BONES?
Kawamoto: So I worked on Cowboy Bebop in 1998 and after that the producer at Sunrise, Masahito Minami, said he wanted to go independent and so he invited me along. That was the trigger for the creation of BONES. I think Minami-san wanted to work on creating something new, rather than previous existing works. That is why he left Sunrise and wanted to go independent.
Question: As my website deals with more inspiring artists to reach their goals and you are an established artist, most of my questions will be art production related. I would like to ask when it comes to character designs, in your opinion. What are some of the most important key factors in creating successful character?
Kawamoto: That is a difficult question. (After clarification of the question.)
Kawamoto: It is difficult to give advice on that point. It would be nice if people are designing characters and thinking about their fans in mind that, is a character going to be really popular but, sometimes it’s not really possible to have that in mind when you’re creating a character. My only advice is to sort of raise your antennas and be open to information through out the world. Be open to new experiences. Point your antennas in various directions. Take things in from the world around you and process those into your own style. I am always trying to be open to information in terms of genre as particularly regard to the future. As technology and other things evolve so, I kind of go a mile wide and an inch deep and try to get a lot of new information. About what and how things are changing.
Question: When you established BONES 12 years ago, where you confident that it would be successful or..?
Kawamoto: I joined BONES and my friend Minami because I had the same thoughts as Minami. As far as what I wanted to create and becoming an independent animator. I wasn’t really thinking of it would be successful or not. I was just thinking about what I wanted to create and the kind of things I wanted to make. I was very happy that many of people who worked on Cowboy Bebop, who were freelance animators, were able to move over and join BONES. At BONES, we were able to create RahXephon and so the actual feeling of where we were working didn’t change very much. From when we were working on Cowboy Bebop because, we had a lot of the same people who were working on it.
Question: My question is about the reception of Cowboy Bebop and the west. By many western anime fans, Cowboy Bebop is one the most well regarded animes. Were surprised to the reception of Cowboy Bebop?
Kawamoto: I was surprised. When we made Cowboy Bebop number 1, it was hard to get broadcast slots. We didn’t even know if it was going to become a hit or not. Faced with all of these difficulties, we shortened what was originally planned, for a 26 episode series to a 13 episode series but now even 10 years later, it is still so popular even outside of Japan. It is a strange yet almost surreal feeling.
Kawamoto: With regards to a sequel, you saw the last scene?
Kawamoto: There are no plans at this time and I am not part of the staff but, I have heard that there may be still a possibility of a live action version. So, we may see a Hollywood version of Cowboy Bebop, in some time in the future.
Question: Are you able to elaborate on the broadcast spot and why there were difficulties with that?
Kawamoto: When we were trying to find broadcast slots in Japan. We were faced with challenges because of some of the violence, for example the bloody eye episode, which had a lot of drug references and as well the violence. Made it hard to find a broadcast slot. Also at the same time, there was a real life incident known as the Poke-mon shock. Where a youth was wielding a knife. We had to digitally remove a knife from a particular scene, because of the social impact at that time. The bloody eye episode was actually episode number 1, so we actually started broadcasting with episode number 2, due to these kind of issues. But episodes number 1 and 5 were released in their original format, so I was glad I was able to take care of those.
Question: I was wondering who your inspirations were as a child. That made you want to become an artist?
Kawamoto: There are many. It wasn’t so much people but, so much as their creations and the anime I was watching. When I was in high school, that inspired me. For example the gundam designs from Yasuhiko Yoshikazu and Tomino Yoshiyuki and as well as Hayao Miyazaki’s films. Kawamori Shouji of Macross fame,Urusei Yatsura Mamoru Oshi. It was through their work and watching their creations that I decided to join this industry.
Question: Speaking of Gundam 0083 stardust memory, which features many different characters from various ethnicities. How important was that for you, in terms of being a director and character development?
Kawamoto: Personally I think it’s just natural. There are also times where we need to create characters, that will appeal to the Japanese audience. When we were creating something in Japan. Stardust Memory has a sort of Hollywood feel to it and there was a request from the developer to include people of many different races. Does this answer your question?
Questioneer: “Yes. It was an actual request that was interesting. I thought it was a director decision to include different ethnicities.”
Kawamoto: I think we became more aware of that over time. 0083 was kind of made in the style of the first original gundam and I think we became more aware of that over time. I am sorry, I am not too familiar with the most recent Gundam so, I am not sure what direction they are taking. But my memory of Gundam 0083 was that, we thought about of the kinds of actors that characters were representing and we based the character design on that. Cowboy bebop was like that, we kind of thought about the characters first.
Question: Studio BONES has done a lot of really wonderful animations. There has been some that were original creations from BONES and there has been a lot like Full Metal Alchemist that were based on previous existing works. How does he approach these types of products differently, working on pre-existing works as opposed to something they created themselves?
Kawamoto: For example of Full Metal Alchemist, it was a creator at BONES named Yoshiyuki Ito who thought it would be great to create an anime out of Full Metal Alchemist. He talked to the producer at BONES and then we talked to Square Enix who owns the IP (Intellectual Property). That is how we created the anime for Full Metal Alchemist, my apologies. That was how it was decide Yoshiyuki Itoe would be the character designer and main Animator for Full Metal Alchemist. (31:43) Of course there were times where the sponsors or original creator of the work will sponsor the creation of the anime. A recent work I worked on, Towa no Quon. Was also based on a original work had the creator who made it, working on the anime.
Question: How do they choose that the next project is a pre-exisiting work or something they made.
Kawamoto: It’s all up to the president, what he says goes. However with that said, we do have input into the direction the company is going. We have a feeling of wanting to create our own works and it is still a possibility. Although it can be difficult to do that, there is a possibility of original works from BONES.
Kawamoto: No particular concerns. But there is a strong way of thought in the industry, in terms of a business stand point. It is easier to be successful with known properties. There is a tendency to prefer sequels over original works, if they are already known.
Question: “Given that, are there any series you haven’t worked with yet that you always wanted to?”
Kawamoto: Sequels? Hmm, that is a difficult question. I think from a sales or business success stand point. It would make sense to make a sequel to Cowboy Bebop but, that would violate the director policy to create that. That is a bit difficult. Instead of existing works, creating some kind of new or original work that had long term popularity or long term series. Would be great for our company to have. There was a tendency in the past to create series in 26 episodes called two packs though, the tendency now is toward 13 episode series called one pack series. There is a severe, difficult, situation that has been continuing. Where we will create 13 episodes of a series and then make the decision whether to create an additional 13 episodes. It is getting a bit more difficult.
Question: You have been a part of the growing industry of constantly changing styles, as each new generation of anime emerges. What do you think of the character designs & animations of today. Compared to those from your beginnings, particularly against popular series; Madoka Magica (Puella Magi Madoka Magica), Sword Art Online, and Guilty Crown?
Kawamoto: I think those series you mentioned reflect currently popular face styles and character designs. In my opinion, the face balance currently reflect the state of industry. There will be tendency where there will a be hit of a particular series. That has a particular art style and so when that is popular. A lot of other, similar, series will be influenced by that art style, and will spread because of its use. But even with in those trends, there will be an increasing amount of original creations and new directions. I think that it is really up to our choice. To choose the designs that we like and up to the fans as well to choose the designs they like. Our job is to create designs that are requested of us by the directors and producers.
Question: How does all that change in difference from older series a such Cowboy Bebop and the original Gundam?
Kawamoto: If you look at the side by side, you can tell but it’s really had to put into words.
Question: What about the production process?
Kawamoto: The biggest would be the change from creating individual cells to the digital creation process. That would be the biggest change. One of the effects digitization, is that previously when people where doing hand drawing animation in cells. The width of the lines could vary but now with digital. All of the lines have to be the same width. There is a trend with that, so that is one thing I think had an effect. So while the screen is clearer, you can get a very clearer image. You loose a little bit, in terms of the creators’ hand drawn works with the new digital process. I think that one appeal of the hand drawn process has been lost, to some extent.
Question: Do you prefer the appeal of the old style, as oppose to the appeal of current mainstream style?
Kawamoto: Of course I am from the cell era so, I think it is something we really need to challenge. To see how we can take that same feeling that we created from cells and convey it to the fans of the digital process. Other companies as well are working on this issue and I think there are various technologies and things they are experimenting with in order to reproduce this feeling of the original cells. But it takes extra effort to bring back what was originally there, naturally. I think another big change is that now is possible for indicial animators to perform their own animation check digitally. Just a single animator can put something together and then check how it flows, very easily.
Question: How much difference from your other works was it when you were working on Golden Boy. Golden Boy is a very silly series and as such and compared to other series…
Kawamoto: Of course it differs depending on director. The director has a lot of influence but I think in term of expression. It is probably more difficult to do a comedy series, than to do a more serious series, from an expressive stand point. Tatsuya Eigawa was the original creator of manga and Hiroyuki Kitakubo was the director and so, meeting their vision was really something that I worked hard on for Golden Boy.
Question: My personal favourite from BONES was the Eureka Seven. It’s one of my favourite series. I was wondering, do you have a favourite series you have worked on?
Kawamoto: Yah, I get that question a lot and it’s really hard to say or choose what’s number one.
Question: Or a couple that is memorable?
Kawamoto: Of course Cowboy bebop and I think the Cockpit, which was an original video animation I did with Director Hiroyuki Kitakubo, was an important one too because that lead to Ghost in the Shell and then Cowboy Bebop. So I think that one had a big impact as well.
Question: I have been wondering for a long time now. I know Ed from Cowboy Bebop is one of the most interesting characters of that anime era and that you based her design on Yoko Kanno, as your inspiration. I am wondering why her and what sort of challengers did you face in matching her to the character personality in the story.
Kawamoto: I’ll talk about how the character Ed was created. So the original plan was to, in addition to those characters; Spike, Jet, Faye. There would be a little boy who is a hacker and there would also be a girl who is always lying around sleeping. There was going to be 5 characters and as planning progressed. It was decided to combine the hacker boy character with the girl who sleeping around on the sofa into a single character and that became Ed. The idea was that, the character would be kind of like a cat and just lounging around all the time. Then the director said; “you know, kind of like Yoko Kanno.” (Panel laughs) I hadn’t met her at the time and so I had to imagine in my mind but, I was told that, this was the kind of person that would just fall asleep in a meeting and was just very honest and natural person so. Although I hadn’t met her, I was able to imagine her character. I remember the amazing work she had did done in Escaflowne and Macross Plus. It was hard for me to fill in that gap between those amazing works and this character that I was being described. So why did that become ED? That is interesting. After the design was done, I actually met Yoko Kanno. Visually she is just a regular cute, attractive girl, but when I actually saw her fall asleep on a sofa. I was surprised and thought; “oh yah, that’s her.”
Translator: We are out of time, but before we end it, is there any final words?
Random question from a member of press: “Do you drink wine?”
Kawamoto: I can’t drink actually, so I don’t drink much wine but there are many people in my staff that do.
Member of press who asked “Do you drink wine?”: I would have offered him a bottle then.
Kawamoto: “Oh our president would be so happy.” (panel laughs)
Kawamoto: Thank you all for coming today, I really appreciate it. Thank you for your support and interest in the anime industry. I look forward to your continuing interest in our future works. Thank you very much.