Gundam, Optimus Prime creator among AsiaPop's top draws

Rick Olivares

Posted at Aug 27 2017 10:11 PM

Anime writer Shoji Kawamori poses for a photo at AsiaPop Comicon. Photo provided by author

In 2015, an article appeared on Forbes magazine about a little known anime creator – that is if you live in North America or Europe – whose mech designs have been copied or have inspired many of today’s robot designs featured in American comics and in film.

It was about Japanese anime writer, designer, screenwriter and producer Shoji Kawamori whose work has inspired the film and modern comics versions of Iron Man, Transformers, and even the Invisibles! 

When the 57-year old Japanese walked into the SMX Convention Center in Pasay last Friday, August 25, he was surprised that there was a long line of fans waiting for him.

“I thought that this (AsiaPop Comicon) was more for American comics,” he said through an interpreter. “So it was a pleasant surprise to see my work appreciated and that there are fans here in Manila as well.”

It was Kawamori who designed the ground-breaking Macross (Robotech in the United States and Europe) anime and especially the VF-1J Valkyrie that “transformed” into three modes – the fighter aircraft, the Gerwalk which is half robot and half fighter plane, and the battroid mode. 

The Japanese designer, however, was quick to dispel all the credit. “When I saw the F-14 Tomcat (the US fighter aircraft during the 1980s), I took a look at the design and was inspired. What if I could do this with the design and turn it into a robot?”

The result was a cultural phenomenon of mech-series and designs.

But Kawamori wasn’t done. He took Macross one step further with his brilliant mech designs for Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory where his “Physalis” design is regarded as one of the best mobile suit designs in the show’s long history.

He also designed many of the characters that would be used in another cartoon hit called “The Transformers” including Optimus Prime, Ironhide, Ratchet, and Starscream among many others. 

We spoke with Kawamori and intimated our particular passion for the “Stardust Memory” series. 

“During that time, I was doing a lot of Gundam drawings. I drew eight different types of Gundams but there was one design that I liked,” shared Kawamori. “It was a one-eyed Gundam whose eye would move back and forth from the slit of its armored head. But the series producers refused that.”

Much to his surprise, years later, those one-eyed Gundams were used.

As for the modern Transformers films and cartoons, Kawamori expressed satisfaction. “As a fan, this is unbelievable – to create memorable characters, icons. If it gives many people joy, then it does the same for me. I want to be able to do more.”

“I was just a fan of Space Battleship Yamato,” he recounted of his youthful days. That particular series captured the then-young boy’s imagination that he found himself tracking down the studio that created the hit anime series. That production company was called, Studio Nue, and Kawamori began working for them after his schooling was done. 

Then came Macross and Kawamori became an instant legend. 

“If it can work for me being inspired by what I see and grew up watching, maybe it can inspire others too,” said Kawamori of his work. “I wanted to design for NASA but being an anime designer and creator isn’t such bad work.”

Kawamori is currently working on a new Macross series that will be unveiled in 2018 to coincide with the 35th anniversary of the show. 

“Right now, I cannot talk about it. Secrecy,” he maintained. “But it will all be worth it. Right now, I want to enjoy my short stay in Manila. The fans have been incredible.”

The 2017 AsiaPop Comicon is the third installment of the country’s biggest comic book and pop culture convention.