Shoji Kawamori Interview @ Anime Expo 2016
Shoji Kawamori is known for designing Takara’s original, first-generation Transformers toys, creating and directing the bulk of Super Dimensional Fortress MACROSS, and much more. During Anime Expo, we were lucky enough to sit down with the legendary creator himself and chat a little about his thoughts on the current trends on the industry as well his current and future works including Project Next.
T-ONO: Can you tell me about your recently announced new work, Project Next?
Kawamori: I can only tell you a little bit about it because we are still at an early stage. I received this proposal from an agent who has made many animated productions worldwide. They approached me with a concept, that led to this project, which we believe can compete not only in Japan, but globally.
T-ONO: What do you think are the differences between the Japanese market and the international markets? What sets this apart from your other works? How will Project Next be geared toward an international market?
Kawamori: The longevity of the Japanese animation industry has allowed it to grown to such a size that there are too many niche markets. This division has made fans very selective about what they will watch. As a result I want to create something than has enough power behind it that it can appeal to a wide audience.
T-ONO: What are your thoughts on the current industry? Things have changed so much, right now there seem to be fewer long serious works and more comedies.
Kawamori: As I started working on this project, there were many occasions to talk about it with inputs from an outside perspective. During these conversations with people outside of Japan, I began to gradually realize that there is a very niche market out there. As a result we (in the industry) have twisted many storylines to further the segmentation of the market. Thus, I have made myself conscious of this while working on this project to create a plot and story that is simple, but still bold enough to appeal to Japanese fans. There is another point I would like to mention, which I hope I can get across. I feel that Japanese fans have over emphasized animation with regards to what they like; for instance when it comes to Japanese fans, they take the ‘perfect base animation’, and deduct points for every little animation mistake. In contrast, fans outside of Japan approach works differently using criteria that adds points, and pays specific attention to things that made them like the animation, such as the composition of certain scenes, the dialogue, and action choreography. Personally I favor the latter method when it comes to making animation, so it is challenging. It is hard to create a perfect work as a group, so it feels better to focus more on the accentuating parts of the animation.
T-ONO: Regarding your current work Macross Delta, how did the project come to be? Were you working on drafts during the end production of Macross Frontier?
Kawamori: While Macross Frontier was in production, I already had an idea to make a singing unit. In terms of the story, I wanted Macross Delta to focus more on the Valkyries. I wanted a departure from a large scale war and bringing it down to squadron based dogfights. Taking some themes from Macross Plus, I wanted to have the singing unit empower the pilots. Even during Macross Plus, I incorporated the eventual integration automated weapon systems and shift in aerial combat from manned aircraft to drones. This is also true currently in our world as well as the Macross universe. So when I created the story, at the current rate the pilot cannot beat the drone. So by utilizing music to amplify their potential, the pilots are much keener, and this synchronization of song and pilot is the crux of my story. Our sponsors requested that Delta reflect the size and scale of the Macross universe, thus I added Windermere as the opposing force.
T-ONO: During your long and storied career which of your productions would you say was the hardest? Which was the most enjoyable? Which would you change knowing what you know now?
Kawamori: Looking back, developing the first Macross (Super Dimensional Fortress Macross) and especially creating the VF-1 Valkyrie was the hardest challenge I had. The Valkyrie development in and of itself took a long time. In terms of the most fun, I am the kind of person who has fun while continually developing something. Any and all “regrets” I may have had during the course of a series production, I try to address that mistake and make it better with the next project I am doing. In a strange way I guess with regards to Macross I would say the production of the series would be like making a YF prototype, while making the movie adaptation akin to making a production model VF. (Editor’s Note: The metaphor is an engineering one where a fighter prototype usually serves as a test bed for new technologies, in this case ideas, and as a proof of concept. A production fighter usually will have more mature technologies, in this case animation, and be more streamlined.)
T-ONO: You have helped launch the music careers of artists such as Maaya Sakamoto, Megumi Nakajima, and Mari Iijima how did you develop an ear for this kind of talent? How do you maintain it?
Kawamori: With regards to music, for myself, I pay attention to what makes me emotional. I aim to find the best harmony between the song, the animation scene, and what kind of emotional impact I want to convey. I always try to anticipate how the emotion in a song synergizes with what is playing on screen.
T-ONO: In the past you started with the solo singer Lynn Minmay in Macross, the rock group Fire Bomber in Macross 7, and Sheryl Nome/Ranka Lee duet in Macross Frontier. Recently with AKB0048 and Macross Delta you included idol groups. Do you consider popular musical trends of the time when creating your new works?
Kawamori: In a Macross series I always want to do something new. I focus on things going on in the real world particularly the changes that are going on. With Macross Plus for instance, I created Sharon Apple, not because of a virtual diva(s) concept, but because at the time artificial intelligence was rapidly evolving. I think it is important to relate my writing to the real world. I like to follow the overall trend of a nascent technology that captures my interest.
T-ONO: What can fans expect in you new series Project Next, in terms of music?
Kawamori: I am still considering different possibilities for this world, and have not yet decided on what to implement in this project. For now, I am going to announce Project Next to the public while keeping an open mind to changes as I continue to work on the series.
T-ONO: Do you have a message for your American fans?
Kawamori: It’s been awhile since I have visited an American convention, and the lively atmosphere and all the fan’s passion for Japanese animation is making me excited. I hope that you all will enjoy Macross Delta, and will be eagerly anticipating the release of the upcoming Project Next!
Interviewers: Stanley Fung and Theodore Mak
Transcription: Yusuke Osada