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Interview: Toshihiro Kawamoto

by Bamboo Dong, transcription: Sean Broestl,
Toshihiro Kawamoto

Who he is: Character Designer, Animation Director

What he's done: Blood: The Last Vampire, Cowboy Bebop, Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, Escaflowne: The Movie, Eureka 7, Fullmetal Alchemist, Golden Boy, Kurau: Phantom Memory, Mighty Space Miners, Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory, Mobile Suit Gundam F91, Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team, Orguss 02, Power Dolls, RahXephon: Pluralitas Concentio, Sonic Boom Squadron, The Cockpit, Witch Hunter Robin, Wolf's Rain

Quotable: "Hmm, personally, looking at a person from behind, I like anyone who has a nice looking body from the hip on down. "

Working in the full spectrum from stylized to realistic character and animation design, Toshiro Kawamoto has done it all. His character designs in shows like Cowboy Bebop and Wolf's Rain have helped to make these some of the best known and loved among modern anime series. Kawamoto has also lent his design talents to some of the most popular classic Gundam sagas. As if that wasn't enough, he once worked as an animation director for the fan-favorite Goldenboy, a show that actually reflects some of his tastes, as we found in this interview.

Let's start off with Cowboy Bebop. Can you tell us about Ed and why he was changed to a she?

My original plan was that there would be a boy who was versed in computer techniques and known as a hacker. The director also desired that we create a female figure who could be manipulated like a cat. The original design had called for five characters. So, during the process of changing matters, the possibility was brought up of role of the boy being changed to a girl who had the characteristics of a cat. That way we would be able to eliminate one of the characters.

What's the story behind Ed's personality being based on Yoko Kanno?

You are well versed in the story! Actually, it was my director who had that idea for an association with Yoko Kanno. That's how this developed into what we have now. Well, actually I knew nothing about Miss Kanno except that she was musically inclined. In my discussions with the director, we ended up deciding on making her the basis of Ed. Of course, I made sure to add all of the points the director had related to me. For instance, her character was unique and unpredictable, and she would all of a sudden just sleep. It was with these kinds of situations that we decided how to produce this character named Ed. And, as far as I was concerned, I had this particular image in mind of creating a musician. In the process, we had to eliminate one to come up with this character.

When you were trying to get inspiration for Ein, you had bought a Welsh Corgi yourself. Do you still have it?

I got her during the time that I was actively pursuing this creation of the character. She has contributed so much and cooperated to a great extent. Unfortunately, last January, I lost her.

Oh, that's awful! How?

We never found out what the exact cause was. By the time we took her to the animal hospital, they could not figure out what was wrong. They said it could have been some unusual virus. The room that she used to occupy is now full of presents from fans, all kinds of character designs and toys. I have created a very memorable room that constantly reminds me of her.

What was her name?

Colin. Later on I found out that Colin is more of a boys' name. I learned that maybe I should have supplemented that with an “e” for Colleen. That's kind of a Japanese name.

Did you ever think about getting a Siberian Husky to celebrate having finished Wolf's Rain?

During the time I was working on Wolf's Rain, Colin was still very active. Some of her behavior and expressions gave me ideas for creating my characters. Though, Corgis do not have tails, so I didn't get much of a hint as far as those are concerned. Of course, in those situations where I needed to focus on a tail, I would go to zoos and observe the wolves and take pictures.

Corgis have really short legs. I can't imagine them galloping far.

You're right. Whenever it comes up in the stories, I would have this image in my head, “What if she had longer legs?”

So the wolves are Corgis with longer legs?

Individually. In my own mind, yes. [laughs]

With some of your more popular female characters, like Faye from Cowboy Bebop, did you model them after anyone?

Normally, my methodology would be to come up with ideas for a character that I want to create. However, in that situation, the director was very agreeable to the character of Faye. There wasn't much of an objection from him. I was able to create her without many difficulties. What I did was, I actually clothed the character with a diverse collection of clothes and presented each choice to the director and left it up to him to select.

In Wolf's Rain, where the characters had two different forms, did that require you to change the way you design your characters?

Actually, it would be up to the director and scenario writers to come up with the main character, but how that character is going to be presented in the work is up to my imagination. That's how the process usually is.

Of course, during the process of coming up with the images for the characters, say if I was working on Wolf's Rain, I would be studying a lot about the specific features, habits, and actions of the wolf. All those would enable me to come up with a specific character. In creating the animation I looked, for example, at their hunting behaviors. There are certain procedures that would be followed as a wolf. If this were a human being, then not all of those features would apply. It's a balancing act when creating those characters.

In the series, whenever one of the human characters reaches down and grabs someone, it shows the wolf's jaws clamping down on the other person. If the human hand is equivalent to the wolf jaws, what is the wolf equivalent of the human mouth?

You've got a lot to consider because if we are talking about a human being making some kind of a motion, as opposed to a wolf or other animal, then the first thing we notice a difference in is what you focus on, what your eyesight is going to see. What a human being would focus on as opposed to a wolf. If I am going to come up with something realistic, I am going to have to modify some factors.

Sometimes what I have to do is falsify the real situation. How I am going to disguise it can cause difficult situations. To give you an example, doorknobs. For a human being to open it, all he has to do is twist it. This is something a wolf obviously cannot do. However, if we give the door a lever, then all the wolf has to do is put weight on it to get it open. Those are the kind of things I was conscientious of.

When you design the different characters, do you ever take their different ethnicities into account?

In those situations where such a factor is desired, then I do take it into consideration. Otherwise, I just use my own ideas for nationality.

Have you ever tried to give yourself a cameo in an anime?

It's not my style to really push my own image into the forefront. In the case of Goldenboy, when I was part of the production, there was a director character based off myself. Well, actually not just the director, but all of the staff characters were sort of taken from the production staff.

One last random question then, to wrap things up. In the US, men describe themselves as “breast men” or “leg men.” Through your character design adventures, what do you consider yourself to be?

Ah, now there's an interesting question. Are you talking about what I like to focus on in my characters, or just my personal preference? Hmm, personally, looking at a person from behind, I like anyone who has a nice looking body from the hip on down. In my image creation, I go for anyone who has that nice graceful line.

So you're more of an ass man?

[laughs] You're digging for an answer, huh? Hmm... Yes, I suppose you would be right.

Alright, well that's all the time we have. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, and good luck on your future projects.

Thank you, too!

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