One of the highlights of this year’s AsiaPOP Comicon Manila was the appearance of Macross concept creator, Shoji Kawamori.
Aside from being responsible for the creation of the original Macross (from its concept and story to its art design), Kawamori also designed the toy for Macross, Valkyrie (the iconic transformable fighter with 3 modes: Batroid, Gerwalk and Fighter) and Diaclone toy line (later became known as the Transformers.)
Fans were given opportunity to meet him personally through the autograph session held at his booth in the Hall of Fame area. There was a long line of people who waited patiently to have their Macross merchandise signed and get a selfie with the master himself.
Also a highlight of Kawamori’s visit was his workshop entitled “The Creation – Song, Transformation and Deculture Shock”, held during the last day of AsiaPOP Comicon Manila. The workshop area was jampacked with fans eager to know the secret on how their favorite Macross series came to be.
To open the workshop, he showed the image of the half-Filipina and half-Japanese actress, Megumi Nakajima. Kawamori praised her voice acting skills as the seiyuu for Ranka Lee, one of the heroines of Macross Frontier.
CREATING CONCEPTS WITH ORIGINALITY
Kawamori began his workshop with a brief background of himself and a showcase of his previous works and projects. The most important part in creating the concepts for these projects was in its originality, which he described as having two kinds– inventive originality (creating something out of nothing) and unique personality (creating something by changing your point of view on something.)
He said that creating a concept is like climbing trees, where your point of view changes with each level you climb. As an example, he showed an image where an ordinary tape dispenser becomes the base shape for a spaceship design by simply turning the dispenser upside down.
Sometimes a change of environment would also help you come up with a good concept.
He recalled a challenge that was posed to him and his colleague, Kazutaka Miyatake, to create a new mecha concept. During his vacation, he noticed how you need to bend your knees when you ski. The reverse-bent knee became iconic design for his new mecha design. This was the birth of Gerwalk.
When they came back to the office and presented each other’s designs, he was surprised that Miyatake had the similar idea as he was, except that his mecha creation had 4 legs instead of 2. Since his design was simpler to animate (due to lesser legs to draw/animate), he had won the challenge.
Kawamori’s victory with Gerwalk was short-lived because it proved to be harder to sell. At that time, people enjoy watching mecha like Voltes V which has human-like features of head, arms, torso, and legs. He decided to design more mecha which has these humana-like features. In the next 6 months, he developed the Diaclone Car Robot for the toy company, Takara. This became the original designs for the first generation of Transformers.
He found it funny that in the earlier mecha designs, whenever the vehicles transform into the robot form, the cockpit and the engine of the vehicle just disappears. This is why in his later designs, he made sure that when the mecha transforms, the cockpit and engine will still be a part of the robot and remain functional.
EARLY DAYS AS A CONCEPT CREATOR
He recalled how during his highschool years, he and his friends collaborated to create a mecha manga series. He was responsible for designing the mecha for that manga and showed some of the pages that he had worked on.
Kawamori became a fan of the F-14 fighter jet, the base design of the VF-1 Valkyrie when his father made him part of the US Army base in Kanawaga. He noticed that there was a gap at the bottom between the engine, so he thought maybe he could put the arms in that gap. He later improved his initial design with the front part transforming to become the actual cockpit of the aircraft. Even though many companies told him that airplane mecha will not sell, after seeing the prototype, they decided to take the risk and approve the design. This was how Superdimensional Fortress Macross was born.
To propose his mecha designs to toy companies, he would often create the robot models using papercraft. Nowadays, Kawamori uses Lego to create new designs. He showed a Lego model he made for Macross Delta and demonstrated how it transforms from airplane mode to robot mode.
CREATING A NEW STORY CONCEPT FOR MECHA
The idea of solving war without using a weapon was brought up during the production of the Macross television series when he heard Lynn Minmay sing. His idea was presented to the panel but it was immediately rejected as the panel believed singing will not solve the war. However, he still pursued the idea and took full responsibility for what he was doing. In 1984, his movie, Macross: Do You Remember Love? premiered.
Kawamori was still a 3rd year university student at that time and it became difficult for him to balance his student life and making movie. Eventually, he was kicked out of the university. But this did not stop him from continuing to make more concepts for the Macross series.
He began to think of creating an animation that no one can copy. Following the “solving war with no weapon” concept, he thought “what if the mecha pilot can sing but does not want to fight?” The character sings and plays guitar instead of maneuvering the robot to enter the war. Fans once remarked “Why does your character keep singing instead of fighting?”. After a few months, we released an episode where the character started to shoot missiles. The fans now said “Why does he shoot missles now?!”
Kawamori revealed that during the time he was creating Macross 7, he had collaborated with a flying circus group to be able to experience riding a jetplane for the first time. He discussed the difference between when you are just playing a computer game and when you are actually in the cockpit. During that flight, they had reached a very high speed which had caused a pilot to pass out. He applied his experience to one of the scenes in Macross 7 where the pilot Isano passed out in mid-flight.
In Macross Zero, he incorporated the idea of projection mapping despite such technology was none at that time.
The concept of Macross Frontier was to have a high school student story. It will give a feeling of a student who, after he had finished school and said his farewell, decided to leave for good. He also enumerated the concepts for his works under the series such as “The False Songstress” and “Wings of Goodbye.”
Macross Delta was created two years ago with a new story and a new country.
He announced that he is going to create a movie for Walkure. There was also a new project to be announced this October. A teaser trailer was shown to the audience.
At the end of his presentation, Kawamori gave the audience a chance to ask questions. A fan asked if there will be any chance of Macross 30 characters to appear in his future project to his reply, he might consider it but not in the immediate future.
One fan also asked if there are plans to continue Mega Road 01. He replied that he thinking about it.If there is a good concept and story, maybe he’ll try.
As music plays a central role in the Macross series, one fan asked what type of 80s music does he listen to for inspiration. He recalled the choice of songs that he listened to during the development of the concept for Macross Delta. At that time, he collaborated with a music company thatgave them hundred of songs for inspiration. They chose music from the Showa Era or the 80s.
Lastly, a fan asked a question that had been nagging many Macross fans. Will the identity of Lady M be finally revealed at the upcoming Macross movie? Kawamori replied that they are still discussing about the movie so fans will just have to watch out for it.
The workshop ended with a group selfie with everyone doing the Walkure hand sign.