Otakon 2005: Kawamoto Toshihiro’s Panel

Reporter(s): Kuzu Ryu Sen
Location: Otakon 2005, Baltimore, MD, USA
Date: August 19, 2005

Kawamoto Toshihiro has been involved in the production of some of the most beloved anime that exist. Born on July 15, 1963, Kawamoto-san became an avid Gundam fan, and got his start in the industry at a studio that worked on Urusei Yatsura. Since then, he has been a pivotal part of projects such as Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket, Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory, Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: The Last Blitz of Zeon, The Vision of Escaflowne movie, Wolf’s Rain, Golden Boy, and perhaps the most famous works in America:Cowboy Bebop and Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door. Most recently, Kawamoto-san served as the animation director for an episode of Kurau: Phantom Memory However, his most popular work may be still to come, as he is involved with the Fullmetal Alchemist movie.

Well, during the opening ceremonies, they said my latest work was Kurau: Phantom Memory, although that is now out of date. My latest work was actually key animation for the Fullmetal Alchemist movie.

[Cheer from the audience.]

Aha, I wondered if I would get better applause if I mentioned Fullmetal Alchemist [laughs].

Currently, Bones is working on Eureka 7, and I am doing episode 26. As for other shows, those are still in pre-production, so I’m afraid I can’t talk about those. If you have questions about my work or the Japanese animation industry, please ask away.

If I wanted to enter the industry, what advice would you give?

Well, first of all, to study. Anime School would the best place to learn animation. Although to look at it from a pessimist’s point of view, lots of studios don’t take in foreigners, so it really is difficult to enter the industry.

However, there are plenty of non-Japanese students doing their best at Japanese Anime Schools, so you have no shortage of role models to look up to.

What kind of material are you looking for in a portfolio?

Well, if you have a demo, it should be playable on normal material/devices, and not be some obscure format. Bones however reviews stills, rather than animation, so you should come with cels and the like.

In the Japanese animation industry, do you have to be able to smoke and drink?

Yes, naturally.

[Dramatic pause.]

That was a joke.

I worked on Cowboy Bebop, and maybe that isn’t the best role model for this sort of question – but anyway, neither I nor the director smoked or drank.

Is there anything particularly interesting or funny about studio life?

Well, we try to avoid crazy things [laughs].

We do have one edict though, and that is everyone must bathe. I’m sure everyone here too bathes regularly.

Of course, there is “crunch time,” where bathing and changing clothes only happens once every 3-4 days, so you do need a certain endurance if you’re going to succeed in the industry.

What kind of reference material, for uniforms in particular, do you use for your characters?

Well, it’s a case by case basis. For example, for Golden Boy, since it was a contemporary setting, I’d use the Tokyo School Uniform Encyclopaedia. I believe all you need is a basis for your design, so just have that, and the director will alter it as he/she sees fit.

So again, to use Golden Boy as an example – I did use some BDSM magazines as reference material. They’re now tucked away in my closet.

I forgot to mention Escaflowne, so I’d like to ask what you thought of it?

Well, Escaflowne: The Movie was made during the year interval between the Cowboy BebopTV series and the Cowboy Bebop movie.

Since the character designer was changed for the movie, and the tone was decidedly more serious than that of the TV series, I had to figure out [as the key animation supervisor] just how far the director wanted to go for the movie. It took a while to understand his intentions, but everything was smooth sailing after that.

What is your favourite Cowboy Bebop episode?

There was one episode I insisted on doing myself, and that was Mushroom Samba.Unfortunately, I was not allowed to be the animation director for that particular episode. In exchange, I was able to do layout for episode 22 – Cowboy Funk. So from this compromise, you can see how seriously I wanted to do Mushroom Samba.

Will there be a sequel to Wolf’s Rain?

Nope, nothing past the 26 episodes.

What was your favourite character to design from Cowboy Bebop?

Ed, with her single lines, seems to have an inverse popularity to the simplicity of her design. It was very easy to draw her too – no joints.

Why is Ein a corgi? Was it a decision by yourself, or maybe the director?

Well, the first person to think of Ein as a corgi was the chief writer, and back then, I knew nothing about corgis.

So as a result, I bought a corgi to study for the project. Unlike Ein, my corgi is female, and she is a very good reference.

What was your inspiration as a character designer?

I like to improvise and draw whatever is on my mind, and then submit that to the director for approval. Of course, acceptance leads to a happy ending, but rejection leads to deviations, alterations, or even to a confrontation with the director.

As an animator, I have to say that simplicity is best, but there are things that can’t be avoided that raises the line count, so that’s a struggle.

Are there any expectations in terms of voice acting for a character designer?

Well, the casting is up to the director, although once in a while, I do get consulted by the director about voice suitability. For Cowboy Bebop, I was consulted about casting, and everyone who I had in mind was casted, so everything worked out well.

In Wolf’s Rain, did you try to make the wolf forms and their human form counterparts similar in movement, appearance, and/or behaviour?

Well, that wasn’t something I had in mind directly, but I did put it in. Hige’s collar and Tsume’s scar would be examples of this. Backstories do exist to explain these things, but they were created after the initial character design.

Do you have any tips with regard to that endurance you mentioned earlier that is required in the industry?

Well, I can’t look after everyone else, so all I can do is to keep myself awake. I’d have to say that my dog is the biggest victim from my exhaustion, not that I’m abusive to my dog or anything.

Have you ever inserted anyone, such as your friends, family, enemies, or even yourself into one of your works?

Well, there are examples, but if that character turned out to be bad, or a villain, or anything like that, it wouldn’t be flattering to the model, so I keep those things secret.

I’m not too good at giving myself public exposure, so I’d never actually incorporate myself into a design. However, in the sixth episode of Golden Boy, everyone at the animation studio was modelled after the studio that I worked in, so everyone there including the director and me was self-parodied.

Anata no inu no namae wa nan desu ka. (What is the name of your dog?)

Colin (Korin), although I found out later that Colin was a boy’s name, so I screwed up in that regard.

If you could have any other animal other than a dog, what would it be?

Unfortunately, I couldn’t be a wolf owner, so that’ll depend on the next show I work on.

Who is your favourite artist, and did he/she have any influence on you?

When I was a student, there was Mobile Suit Gundam, so I admire the character designer and mecha designer from that series. Also, it was that which inspired me to go into the industry.

Are there any features that you focus on in order to express/enhance a character’s personality?

Well, it’s difficult to do, so it’s not intentional. So for example, after the main character, the “buddy” type character would be very different.

I’ve heard a rumour that the character “Radical Edward” from Cowboy Bebop was inspired by Kanno Yoko. Is that true?

It was a direct order from the director.

So she can play the piano with her feet?

Heh, this is the first I’ve heard of that, so I’ll have to ask her if that’s true.

I’d firstly like to say that your design style is gorgeous and stylish. I have two questions. First, what was the inspiration behind Faye Valentine, and second, why did Vicious have a bird?

Well, I worked on Ghost in the Shell, so perhaps Kusanagi Motoko became the residual image in my head as I was working on Faye.

As for the bird, there wasn’t any particular reason. We had to improvise a futuristic/cosmic species, but that was all. It was probably the director who might have said something like “that character needs a bird.”

The last anime that I saw was Phantom Memory: Kurau, so I’d like to ask you to comment on your experience, and ask how involved were you on that project? Since you didn’t design the characters yourself, what did you think of them?

Well, my style was close to the style in use. I’d have to say though that the episode I worked on was sexier than the standard episode.

Also, the other designers use things/elements that I don’t have, so it’s a good opportunity to learn.

Do you have any personal feelings as a director?


When I’m an animation director, I must make sure to set a good example for all the other artists.

Well, then I would just like to say that despite the short time, I must thank you all for coming. In Tokyo, I will use your passion as encouragement, so thank you all very much.