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All the Announcements from Anime Expo 2024
From Macross to Scooters: Q&A with Shoji Kawamori

by Bamboo Dong,

ANN's coverage of Anime Expo 2024 sponsored by Yen Press and Ize Press!


Legendary creator, producer, mecha designer, and visionary Shōji Kawamori graced Anime Expo again for the first time in several years. Best known for creating the Macross franchise, he has also created classics like The Vision of Escaflowne and provided mechanical design for a host of popular series like Eureka Seven.

He also lends his creativity to a number of non-animated projects—he's currently designing a pavilion for next year's Osaka World Expo. Called "Live Earth Journey," it aims to utilize interactive visual technology to explore the circular nature of life. Kawamori is also drawing from his long experience in animation and hopes to apply it to “something very different." He teased ideas like incorporating AR goggle technology with passthrough cameras "so people can experience different perspectives and see different things in their lives." Speaking about a recent walkthrough he had with Expo leaders, "They said they've never seen anything like this so I'm very excited!" The experience will be approximately ten minutes long and is housed inside a building designed like a pile of blocks to symbolize microorganisms coming together to form complex living beings.

Kawamori is also partnering with consumer electronics company AVIOT, which had a large presence at this year's Anime Expo. To the muted enthusiasm and mild bewilderment of the attendees, Kawamori spent several minutes talking about his current collaboration with AVIOT designing the KB-S350 electric kickboard scooter for their Ridepiece project. “I normally do animation and fantasy worlds, so to see something in the real world is very fun.” He also previously worked with them designing their Macross Delta earbuds.

In line with his design work, Kawamori mentioned that he studied aerospace and automobile design in university, and would be interested in working on designing planes, space shuttles, and cars. "I also want to design a theme park," he laughed, citing his work on the Osaka World Expo project.

He also referred to his design experience when answering a fan question about his work on Future GPX Cyber Formula, where he's credited for machine design. "Being able to design all those supercars was really exhilarating for me. But when Cyber Formula was airing, you have to remember that the TV screens were tiny back then. On a small screen, you're not going to be able to see a lot of the details that animators usually put into their animations. We designed all the cars with that in mind. It made us think, 'How do we make the silhouettes unique and different so we immediately know which car it is?'" He said another design consideration was the weight of each car. "If the cars are too light, they're not going to be very fast when raced. So we needed to add weight. How do we do this? By adding the parts they'll use to transform, so that's in the design as well."

Kawamori also spoke at length about his creative process, namely the emphasis on always striving for originality and creativity. “One important aspect of the Macross franchise is we want to always produce and present something totally new… It's hard to come up with totally new and original storylines for Macross.” He continued to say that when they were originally creating Macross, they didn't want a story where weapons were the solution. “It was culture that was the solution,” he said. “In Do You Remember Love, the song was the solution. But we already have that. So that's something we're working on now. Knowing that viewers already know that song is going to be a key point in the series, we need to think of something new and unique.”

Asked about the differences between anime production in the 1980s and now, he said that because production cycles are so fast now, it's nice to be able to make so many different things in a short span. But the downside is that it doesn't stay in people's minds as readily. “People don't remember [titles] very well. It's becoming more difficult for people to realize the uniqueness in a title, and it's hard to even get to that point of uniqueness when the cycles are too quick.” He added that one silver lining is that because so much work can be done remotely, he's able to more easily travel on location for research and still be able to take his meetings.

During the Q&A, one fan asked him whether there was any truth to a rumor that someone on the production staff of the first Macross had left several cells on a train. Kawamori laughed and said, “I don't know if it was that series exactly because we were so busy. I don't remember it happening, but it's a common thing that happens.” He said that a similar thing happened to him once—“I had just finished some rough sketches, and I left them all on the train. When I got to my destination, I had to redraw everything from memory.”

Asked about challenges faced while working on the various Macross projects, Kawamori said that they had done extensive on-site research when they had visited Los Angeles and the rest of the US. They visited (one of the) NASA research centers, as well as the Edwards Air Force Base, followed by Las Vegas to see some shows, and then Broadway for theatrical productions. “I personally believe that just gaining hints from films and novels does not lead to originality,” he confessed. “If it's visual theater, I'll go see a lot of shows. If the project I'm working on takes place in a certain town, I'll go interact with people from that town. If it's about animals, I'll go see animals in their natural habitat. I think the challenge is finding the best way to be unique while I'm going out into the world. What perspective do I come with when I'm doing that research?”

One last point he made was about 2D versus 3D CG art. He acknowledged that he is a lover of 2D, but also understands that 3D art lends itself to more details. “When I was working on some of the titles over the years, we would always joke about how this is the last time we'll be able to do things in the old ways that we're used to.” He added wistfully, “I am a little concerned that with AI looming, it's going to be harder to convince people to learn how to draw in 2D.”

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