Okay, 3, 2, 1, let’s jam! ~ Interview with Cowboy Bebop character designer Toshihiro Kawamoto @FanimeCon2019
Toshihiro Kawamoto is an anime industry veteran that’s best known for being the co-founder of Studio Bones and as the character designer and animation director for Cowboy Bebop. He worked on numerous Gundam OVAs during his early years working at Sunrise. He’s also created key animation for popular shows such as Ouran Host Club, Eureka Seven, and Full Metal Alchemist. CFG had an opportunity to interview Mr. Kawamoto about his career during FanimeCon 2019.
Interviewed by William Hong Translated by Momo Cha Transcribed by Davies Green and Vincent Lai
How are you enjoying FanimeCon so far?
This is my first time in San Jose and compared to Los Angeles or San Francisco, it’s got a very different aura. It feels very relaxing. I feel like compared to a lot of other American cities, that’s kind of unique. Even the landscape is beautiful. So I’ve been having a really good time so far.
What inspired you to become an artist?
The biggest reason I entered the creative industry is that when I was young, I would draw some sketches. Then other people would compliment my work and it would get to my head. I sort of developed a little bit of an ego at the time. That’s probably one of the biggest reasons why I continued on with art.
Originally, I worked as a salary man or an office worker. I never thought I would get into the animation industry. But after receiving all kinds of influences around me, I ended up going into animation.
So if you weren’t working in animation, what would you like to do?
I definitely would not ever want to be a salary man or an office worker ever again. I’ve actually never really thought about a different kind of career for myself. I can’t really imagine it. Although I have received offers for possibly going into directing. But for me, myself, I really feel passionate about art and animating. That’s where I want to continue and I can’t see myself anywhere else.
When you were growing up who were your favorite manga artists?
I really looked up to manga artists like Matsumoto Leiji, Nagai Go, Koyama Yū.
Cowboy Bebop is a classic because of its main characters. Which character was the most challenging to design?
It’s not part of the main cast, but in Cowboy Bebop episode 12 or 13, we had a guest character named Gren. Designing that character took a long time and it was very difficult. Another character that was also really difficult to design was Edwards’ father from episode 24.
Was there a reason why Gren and Edward’s father were difficult to design?
In terms of designing for Gren, the character’s background is that Gren has a hormonal imbalance. He has these physical issues like developing breasts. In terms of the writer, Nobumoto, I was told to model Gren after Brad Pitt. But in actuality, I had a lot of issues trying to portray Brad Pitt into Gren. Visually, maybe there are some similarities, but I feel like I couldn’t really nail down that imagery so well. So it took a really long time in order to get the design for Gren right.
In terms of the design for Ed’s father, I modeled him after a baseball player named Nagashima Shigeo who was known in Japan at the time as like kind of the god of baseball. He’s really well known for being very air headed and not really thinking too much and just kind of like going with the flow. Trying to portray this character who is a natural airhead, but who’s also stronger than Spike was really difficult to express.
What was it like working with Shinichirō Watanabe?
Just off the top of my head, like the first thing that comes to mind is that, Watanabe is a pretty selfish director that makes a lot of selfish requests. But in terms of Watanabe and his talents, he actually has quite a bit of a musical talent. Although not in composing music himself, he has a really strong sense of how to utilize music and where to use it in the animations.
What are your thoughts and expectations for the upcoming live action Cowboy Bebop adaptation?
I will just be a viewer of the live action adaptation of Cowboy Bebop. I am actually looking forward to it. I don’t have any real concerns and I really just want to leave it up to the live action staff to create this piece. I’m looking forward to watching it.
Of all the characters you designed, do you have a favorite?
I guess if I had to pick one that comes to mind…I’ve become a dog lover and I got a corgi myself after being influenced having to design for Ein. Doing the designs and animation for Ein, I was able to forget that I was working and just enjoyed myself drawing Ein. That answer is probably a lot different than you expected.
You worked on a lot of Gundam shows. Do you have a favorite Gundam model?
I don’t really have a favorite Gundam per se. But, within the realm of Gundams, kind of like the holy grail or like the Bible Gundam is the first Gundam that appeared in the original Mobile Suit Gundam TV show. I am not referring to the remake, but I’m talking about the original from around 1979, I think. In Japan we refer it to as first Gundam. I feel like my answer could be compared to like how, if you try to ask somebody which one is your favorite Star Wars? Usually people would go for the original Episode Four.
What would you say is the proudest moment of your career?
It’s not really a project or a specific series per say, but seeing the reaction from the original creator if it’s an adaptation. Or meeting with the original director and seeing their reactions and receiving their feedback is a high point for me. Within the animation industry, it might be that we focus a lot on how the viewers react and how they appreciate the work. Personally for myself, I really appreciate being able to talk with and meet with the original creator or the original series director. I get a sense of how they want to perhaps do another project with me and that’s really a proud moment for me.