Interview: Macross Creator Shoji Kawamori

by Michelle Liu,

Shoji Kawamori is the eclectic, sometimes eccentric creator of such influential mecha anime projects as Macross and Aquarion. At Otakon 2018, he spoke on his approach to mecha design and the history of Macross. Never one to walk the beaten path, Kawamori took to squatting in front of the audience to demonstrate the mechanics of the plane-humanoid hybrid GERWALK, even climbing on tables to illustrate his commitment to originality and a unique perspective. Showing off projects ranging from Macross to Kiruminzoo, Basquash! to the Sony AIBO, Kawamori detailed his journey from humble, LEGO-building mecha designer to the absolute powerhouse director he is today. We spoke to him about his latest project, Last Hope, which will be released on Netflix this October.

ANN: This fall, Jūshinki Pandora will get an overseas release via Netflix under the title Last Hope. How was this alternate title decided?

KAWAMORI: Initially I thought we could go with “Pandora” in the title, but the coordinator for the international release told me that the name “Pandora” might imply something more feminine than what's supposed to be told in the story. In Japanese, “Pandora” evokes something closer to the idea of Pandora's Box. It's a bit more mythological. What remains in Pandora's Box in the end is hope, so I decided to have “hope” in the title, and since it comes out of the box last, I thought “Last Hope” would be appropriate.

The monsters in Last Hope form when organisms fuse with AI. You also addressed artificial intelligence in Macross Plus twenty years ago. Has your perspective on AI changed over the years?

Back when we were making Macross Plus, it was pretty obvious that AI would encroach into our lives in the near future. What's surprising is that it isn't limited to military applications; AI has seeped into our daily lives as well. At the same time, progress in biotechnology has been revolutionary, especially since DNA editing became an accessible technology. There have been plenty of works—animated, live-action, and science fiction—that's about AI only, but there hasn't been much to incorporate AI and the evolution of technology, as well as genetics. So all of all that combined technology exceeding the reaches of humanity is the idea that went into Pandora.

Seems very Arjuna-like.

Oh, yes. With Arjuna, my original idea was to start off with a Japanese high school girl who would have an expanded awareness, better senses than other people. But when I did the research, I found that we do have an ecological crisis that's much more severe than previously thought. So that became the basis for Earth Girl Arjuna.

Several of your works take place in a futuristic version of China: “Shanghai Dragon” from Genius Party, Neo-Kowloon in Aquarion Evol, and now Last Hope. Is there something that brings you back to this setting?

This goes back to my solo travels in China over thirty years ago. It was a time when China wasn't very developed. When I traveled to various villages, I saw that children there were very active and cheerful. And despite my being in the anime and TV industry, it was quite a shock to me to see that children were happy when there was no electricity, no entertainment in the form of television. I myself love technology, and I love the entertainment that's thrived through access to technology, but there are people who do great without technology, and there are so many kids would be better off without it. That put me in a great dilemma, and that idea went into shows such as Macross Plus where mind control and new technology is an issue. Returning to the original question, after I traveled to China, I went to Hong Kong. This was 33 years ago. The great shock of going from old tech, undeveloped China to a modern Hong Kong was very surprising. It was wonderful to see the chaotic mixture of Asian tradition and Western technology. I thought this was definitely picture-worthy, so that's a theme I've been going back to ever since.

That's very deculture.

(In English) Yes, very deculture.

Speaking of Netflix, their bingewatch model is very different from how anime fans are used to watching. Do you see Netflix's presence in the industry impacting how anime is made, or the industry as a whole?

A lot of us in Japan are still trying to figure out how to accept this. A lot of Japanese animators are motivated by the fact that the show they worked gets broadcast every week and receives immediate feedback, that feedback loop. Many of us do think that it would be a deprivation not to get that. But as I get the audience reaction today, from people who have bingewatched on Netflix, I can think of it as viewing a four-hour movie, rather than a two-hour movie. If we rationalize it that way, that does give us a better idea of what we're doing for Netflix.

For my last question, here's a very silly Aquarion Evol question of sorts: what's your favorite kind of donut?

Well, I'm starting to develop lactose intolerance, so I can't really enjoy it much anymore, but chocolate cream used to be my favorite. (laughs)

That's interesting! That about wraps us up, thank you very much for your time.

Our thanks to Otakon and Shoji Kawamori for this opportunity.

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