Kawamori Shoji (of Macross, Escaflowne, and Aquarion fame) is coming out with a new anime, set to air spring 2018. Jūshinki Pandora or simple Pandora takes places in a semi-post-apocalyptic world where humanity must fight unknown life-forms called B.R.A.I. (Biological Revolutionary of Accelerated Intelligence) with their own M.O.E.V. (Multi-purpose Organic Evolution Vehicle).
Different from Kawamori’s typical fighter jets from Macross, the M.O.E.V are transformable cars. At an auto car show, Kawamori was asked for an interview about his interest in cars and their connection to Pandora. Enjoy!
Original found here.
Awakening Interest in the 117 Coupé
— Ok, the first question I have to ask is what kind of car do you drive?
Kawamori: A (Citroën) DS3 Cabrio, the one where just the roof comes off. What I really want is a car where the whole top comes off. My kids are all grown up, so I’ve run out of reasons why I haven’t switched (laughs). I’ve liked roofless cars since I was little — my previous car was the 206cc.
— Have you always fancied that sort of car design?
Kawamori: My father used to work for a company that subcontracted with Isuzu Motors. When I was in second grade, I stopped by his office and happened to see the newly released 117 Coupé. When our car lights shined on the tail end of that car it glowed. My dad told me, this car was an Italian design.
In that instant, I connected the word design to cars. It was an impressionable moment.
— And since then, you’ve always held an interest in cars?
Kawamori: Yes. In middle school, I was riding my bike around my house in Yokohama and was overtaken by a cool looking car. Following it, I found myself at the Sea Side Motors’ factory (a former import car dealership). There, parked out front was a De Tomaso Mangusta. This happened right before the supercar boom, so it was rare for a middle schooler to stop by and look around. That’s why I was able to do all sorts of unheard of things like seeing the inside of the Lamborghini Miura on display. I was even invited to ride around in the Maserati Merak when they imported it through the Yokohama port.
— Was the factory pretty lenient at that time?
Kawamori: They were so lax about everything (laughs). If I went to the factory I could look at all the cars I wanted — that Mangustas from before, the Iso Grifo, the Aston Martin DB5. It was a mountain of treasures.
— Your public image is one that holds a strong impression of aircraft designs, but between cars and aircrafts, which do you feel was easier to get used to designing?
Kawamori: What I really find most familiar is cars, but really I’m interested in anything that you can ride. Vehicles for space exploration and the Apollo missions are also intriguing.
We don’t have NASA in Japan, though, so my plans for space explorers and aircrafts backfired, so I held onto cars. However, I had friends in middle school that were far and away better at drawing cars than I was, so I gave up on that too.
Valkyries and the grammar of car designs
— While you are known for your transforming military vehicle designs, I get the impression that you took fancy with the Takara car robots and quickly adopted their transforming cars idea. What are some similarities and differences between transforming cars and transforming aircrafts?
Kawamori: When I first worked on the Transformers robot cars’ design I took a great deal of interest in what occurs post-transformation — what happens to the driver’s seat, where does the engine go, and how does it propel the machine?
For Macross, it was a very technologically advanced setting where supplies were lighter than ever before. We had planes that didn’t need as much fuel since they could use the air as propellant while in the Earth’s atmosphere. The space meant for the fuel tank could instead be used for containing transforming parts.
Of course, with aircrafts, there are aerodynamic restrictions in place that are tricky to get around; but it’s also tricky to perfect efficient space in a truck that is supposed to be drivable.
— So for your designs, you work backward from the restrictions set by the story. Have you ever designed a car first and worked off of its influence?
Kawamori: I’m about to go off track of influences, but when I design a car I work on combining the engineering aspect and the character aspect to create something unusual. Lights that are like eyes, a grille that’s like a mouth, all of these come together to create a car character.
The mixing of those two and styling of the design is what makes it charming. The cross of humanity and science in the real world, so to speak. As a designer I find that to be the most fascinating.
— I never thought about it, but now that you say it, your designs feel like more than just a manufactured product.
Kawamori: When trying to do this with aircraft it gets a bit more tricky to express them logically as a character. Despite that, they manage to bring themselves out characters in a mysterious way (laughs).
— Would you say you’ve had that trouble with anything you’ve worked on before?
Kawamori: When I first started working on the Valkyrie for Macross, and incorporated the transformation, it leaned more on the side of a character than our current military vehicles. I’d taken the plans for a real aircraft and styled it as if I were working on a car.
— So the VF series isn’t based solely on the design of a real aircraft, but was created in a similar way to your car designs?
Kawamori: Yeah, that’s it. If you go too far on the side of making it a character, it suddenly becomes too fancy. That was a big hint I took from working with car designs.
Instead of focusing on drawing inspiration from a specific part, I wanted to know the syntax of the design, in other words, I wanted to find the “grammar” behind designing.
Automobiles and working with anime
— Do you ever feel that cars nowadays should be made in a certain way? Do you have any opinions on them?
Kawamori: Ahhhh this, you see, designing cars has become tricky nowadays (laughs).
No matter what kind of sports car you make, the ones who are going to drive them are a bunch of old guys. This is where it gets tricky. For example, electric cars have been the primary focus up to now, and this deprives interest elsewhere.
It feels like people are joining the auto industry just to make cars, not because they have a deep fascination and desire to work with cars. Self-driving cars were most likely what spurred this on.
If systems like carsharing become the norm, the idea of owning a car will phase out, and I find myself wondering if maybe the demand for stylistic cars will phase out too. With style and design being lumped together, it’s difficult to predict what people will be asking for next.
— Simply, the problem is that people have shifted to a mindset of “as long as it’s fast and useful.”
Kawamori: Yeah, they’ve shifted gears completely. With all the rumors and chat about electric cars, I wonder what those working in engine development are thinking. It’s been slowly but surely picking at me.
Speaking of changes, the animation industry has been changing little by little from hand-drawn to digital.
— You were pretty quick to adapt to the digital process.
Kawamori: When I was working on Macross Plus I went all over gathering information, even an American film studio. We went to this giant warehouse along the San Francisco coast that was filled with modular houses.
They told me, “We used this while filming The Right Stuff for the motion control shots. We don’t use it anymore though!” (laughs). Wasn’t that only made within the past twenty years, I asked. To which he responded, “We’re using digital from now on!”
— No way! That’s so early!
Kawamori: And yet they were already working with 3DCG. In Japan, at that time they would say one minute of CG would cost one hundred million yen. When I asked why they were using digital, he casually responded, “Because it’s cheap.” I nearly fainted.
I was partial to hand-drawn, and a bit obsessed, but I understood there was no point in hating CG. If that were the case, then I needed to get my hands on it first.
— Is that because there is no going back once things turn digital?
Kawamori: What I mean is I was lucky to get a glimpse of it before it gained popularity in Japan. When I returned to Japan and mentioned using it, I was met with some cold shoulders (laughs).
People asked me, “Why would we use something so pointless” but reasoned that it was a technique being used overseas due to its cheapness.
So, the same thing is happening with cars nowadays. For self-driving and electric cars, it’s only a matter of time until they become the norm. I love my engines, but there is no escaping the change.
— What do you think is necessary for Japanese cars to respond to this change?
Kawamori: First off, they have to do something about their system of organization. Their international marketability is falling. The leading cause of this is the constant regulations that limit new ideas and challenges from being tackled.
It would be a shame if manufacturers’ interests were focused on only Chinese designs. There has to be a complete upheaval of the basic framework of the system. Rather than focusing on individual cars marketability, they have to start there.
The Impact of China’s Market and Jūshinki Pandora
— Now, you’ve mentioned China, the stage for your new work, correct?
Kawamori: Yes. Over the past two years, I’ve gone time and time again, and it’s had quite an impact on me.
I went thirty-two years ago, but it’s changed so much it’s incredible. Back then, the big street in front of Tiananmen Square was pitch black at night, and a single bike with no lights took up a whole lane causing eight cars to pile up behind it. Now you don’t see that kind of situation at all.
For the 2008 Beijing Olympics, they went and developed empty lots all over the place so much that it was like a completely different country compared to the previous year. I couldn’t recognize a single thing. That moment was terrifying.
— Ah, the interposing of the Olympics.
Kawamori: There is also a high import tax for foreign cars. Despite the high price for these luxury cars, they are being bought up and driven all around the country. I was shocked by this upon going to the Shanghai Motor Show. All the overseas manufactures that had left Japan were there.
The American manufacturers were there with their loud and proud booth, the Italian manufacturers that no longer came to Japan were there as well. Supercars there that I had no idea about were everywhere I looked. The Japanese media just talks about China’s plagiarized car designs, but I just want to tell them, “now’s not the time to be talking about that!”
— What a predicament.
Kawamori: Obviously many finer quality and accuracy issues need to be taken up, but they don’t lack effort. Their regulations are more relaxed compared to Japan, and thus they are faster to pick up and try new ideas. They can get away with flying drones over temples, after all (Drones flying over temples/buildings in Japan must maintain a distance of least 30m/98ft).
When Japan grows a little more, maybe America and Europe will see us as a little more of a threat, like they do China.
—I’ve picked up Jūshinki Pandora will become a story about the limit of such accelerated growth and artificial intelligence surpassing humanity upon reaching a deviant singularity.
Kawamori: I thought of doing a story focused on AIs, but the amount of time necessary to develop such a story properly wouldn’t lend itself to an anime original.
That’s why I didn’t make the story just about AIs, but also biotechnology and materials science engineering. I wanted to cross all of these vital points and pit them against a separate monster to bring about a real SF fight.
It’s set at a time when humanity will soon descend from their peak — any moment or maybe that time has already started. It’s that kind of story. Even though there are cars, it no longer is the era to drive them, it’s an era where the cars carry you.
— What was the reason behind having the main mech as a car?
Kawamori: You call it a car, but at its size, it’s more of a military vehicle. If I only worked with aircrafts like in Macross, I’d become a one-trick pony (laughs).
In concerns about the cars, I’m personally someone that like small, compact, light cars, but SUVs have come into popularity recently. Not too long ago, SUVs had issues with their center of gravity and such. Their designs had yet to be perfected.
When engineering finally advanced, there were a plethora of unexplored designs that no longer were a challenge to create. Sampling those designs, I thought it would be fun to have them as the new transformation base.
The advancement of the SUVs was also a quick one. For many years I’ve thought that SUVs would be far better designs if they had more of a sports car feel to them. In time, those kinds of cars have started to appear more and more.
— Pandora in some ways feels like a scary story.
Kawamori: In Macross F there was also a fight between a mysterious life-form — the Vajra — but this time, yes, it’s a bit more like a scary story. Set on earth, you have this giant monster fighting a moderately sized robot — I aimed for it to fall between a robot and a hero.
Rather than anime, I wanted to get close to live-action special effects (tokusatsu). The main character is also older than usual. I’ve never focused on characters his age aside from Macross Plus. This was an entertainment based decision, but I think people worldwide will come to enjoy the show.