A profile of Character Designer Tomonori Kogawa
By Tim Eldred
As we peel off the calendar pages on the way to Yamato Resurrection‘s Japanese premiere on December 12, we still know precious little about what’s coming our way. But I can report that the 8 minutes of animation I was privileged to witness at Yamato Party 2009 in May has now been seen by a much wider audience since it was released on a free promotional DVD via the official Yamato Studio website.
Naturally, the footage instantly made its way to YouTube where it has been popping up and dropping off with amazing speed owing to continuing copyright claims. You might catch it by randomly entering “New Yamato” or “Yamato Resurrection” or some similar keyword, but if you do it probably won’t be there long.
I am pleased to say that the footage looks 100% better on a big TV screen than it does on YouTube, which bodes well for the film. There are even a couple of new story details on the DVD sleeve, which reads as follows:
Space Battleship Yamato revives in magnificent form 25 years after The Final Chapter!
Yamato has been revived in full three-dimensional CG, built with care and ingenuity to reproduce its enormous size and mass. The animation makes full use of 3D CG to bring mecha design and battle scenes to the big screen with unprecedented power.
A mysterious confederation of planets obstructs humanity’s emigration plan from Earth, which is threatened by a black hole. Yamato and the 38-year-old Susumu Kodai face a double crisis that develops against the large-scale backdrop of outer space.
Fans will see the return of veteran characters from the early days such as Kodai and Shiro Sanada, as well as many new characters in the young crew. There is also the premonition of a popular new character who will appear.
The main staff realizes a collaberation between “the generation who made Yamato” and “the generation who grew up with Yamato.” The creators of both generations breathe new life into Yamato.
The Earth…the most important thing to human beings. The mother who gave birth to us and brought us up. Yamato rises again to protect the Earth.
Space Battleship Yamato sank into the sea of Aquarius 17 years ago, and now the humans of Earth face an unprecedented crisis in the year 2220. It has a mass 300 times that of our sun, a dark body that swallows light: a moving black hole. Even now, the black hole approaches Earth from distant space.
The Earth Federation organizes a fleet of emigrants who will travel 27,000 light years to the Sairam Amal Solar System. En route, they encounter a large, mysterious armada that attacks and destroys both the first and second fleets. From Yamato, Susumu Kodai commands the convoy that escorts the third fleet.
However, the SUS Fleet, made up of a league of interstellar nations determined to prevent the emigration of humans, lies waiting in ambush across the distance of space…
And that’s not all. Additional story details were revealed at this year’s Comic Con International in San Diego, where a booth operated by a Japanese multi-media company named Organic Hobby, Inc. posted the following description:
It is the year 2223. 19 years have passed since Space Battleship Yamato sank in a heroic battle to stop the Water Planet Aquarius from flooding Earth. Now humans plan to emigrate to a planet in Sagittarius, 13,500 light years from Earth.
As the Earth Federation moves forward with this project, the emigration fleet is attacked by an unidentified enemy. In the face of gunfire, Earth pilot Ozaki cannot defend against it and is unable to take any countermeasures.
He and dozens of crew members manage to survive, drifting in space until they are rescued by a cargo carrier. At once, this carrier is hit by unidentified enemy spacecraft again. But this time it fights back with confidence under the command of its captain. Ozaki sees his capability and skilled performance with his own eyes. This man is the former captain of the Space Battleship Yamato, Susumu Kodai.
After this incident, Captain Kodai returns to the Earth, suspicious about the unidentified spacecraft. He then witnesses the death of his wife Yuki and learns of a new crisis, a migratory black hole approaching to the Earth. His former comrade Sanada is on a mission to work out countermeasures against this threat, and to rebuild Space Battleship Yamato inside the iceberg of Aquarius.
“We must succeed in the third emigration fleet project at any cost. Kodai! I hope that you will return as Captain of Yamato. You retired from active duty, but Yamato was kept alive through that period.”
Kodai verifies the condition of Yamato and prepares for takeoff.
Yamato has been resurrected at last, blasting off with a new crew. Ozaki volunteered to join the crew with Kodai as captain, setting off again to save the human race. With the horrendous real identity of the enemy, a catastrophe that threatens Earth, and the great battle fought by Yamato, the saga continues in a sprawling spectacle of a film.
Enticing as all that is, it’s actually secondary to the topic of this report. Opinions in the fan community vary widely over the promotional footage, which consists mostly of CG battle scenes. However, there are also about five tantalizing seconds of character animation that has been met with a fair amount of debate. It’s quite different from the style of the original saga, which often gets attributed to Leiji Matsumoto but is in fact an amalgam of many different artists who tinkered with the look all the way through to Final Yamato. (The only pure Matsumoto character design is Dr. Sane.)
Like everything else, the character design has moved forward with the times and has been updated for the new movie. But we’re in very capable hands, because the updating was done by a true veteran of the industry.
Tomonori Kogawa isn’t one of those names that leaps off the tongue, but if you’ve looked into SF/adventure anime of the 1980s, you’ve almost certainly seen his work, which is highly individualistic and easy to recognize. He started much earlier than that, of course, but the early 80s saw him hit the peak of his popularity during which time he almost single-handedly trained the next generation of talent. But let’s start at the beginning.
He was born January 1950 in Hokkaido where his natural drawing skills quickly manifested and put him on track for an art career. He wasn’t alone there; he grew up in the same hometown as anime/manga great Yasuhiko Yoshikazu and went to the same high school with him for two years, though the two didn’t actually get acquainted until much later when they both joined the anime industry.
Kogawa set his sights on learning sculpture at Musashino Art University before a friend arranged for him to take an entrance exam at Tokyo Movie, which fast-tracked him to a job offer in 1970. Fast-tracking seems to have been the theme of his early career, since he started as an apprentice animator on the legendary baseball TV series Star of the Giants and was promoted to lead animator in less than a year. But even this turned out to be a stepping stone when he accepted another friend’s invitation to join Tatsunoko Productions, the top producer of TV anime, in 1971.
There he worked as a lead artist on a string of heavy hitters such as the World War II docudrama Animentary Decision, Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, Hurricane Polymer, Space Knight Tekkaman, and The Time Bokan series Yattaman from 1971 to 76. During that time, Kogawa became regarded as the animator who created the Tatsunoko production system, though he denies this and describes his approach simply as Amecomi [American Comic Book] Style.
He left Tatsunoko for Toei Pictures in 1977, starting as a director on a super-robot TV series called Chojin Sentai Baratak. And then–surprise–along came Yamato. Kogawa was positioned to make Farewell to Yamato his next project in 1978 and served as a director for a large portion of the film. Since his specialty was character animation, that became his main focus. It’s the hallmark of a good director to make himself invisible to a degree, but if you know what to look for you can see his influence all over the movie.
For example, he has a penchant for low camera angles and upshots on characters to enhance a dramatic moment, something he probably picked up from American comics. The next time you watch the movie, watch for the upshots; that’s when you see the Kogawa directing style at work. This doesn’t sound unusual, but he had an uncommon knack for figure drawing from the start of his career which brought a greater degree of control to the process. Before Kogawa, upshots were rare because a lot of artists simply couldn’t draw them well. After Kogawa, upshots became commonlaw.
Farewell to Yamato was also one of the projects that reunited him with his former schoolmate Yasuhiko Yoshikazu, who storyboarded the final scenes of the film and worked closely with Kogawa to keep it pure all the way through to the end.
Naturally, Kogawa’s work on Farewell endeared him to the Office Academy staff, so his next job was character designer/art director on Leiji Matsumoto’s Galaxy Express 999 TV series in the latter half of 1978. That might have been enough for anyone to handle, but he also took charge of character design on another TV series called Invincible Steel Man Daitarn 3 at Nippon Sunrise. He adjusted his style somewhat and used a penname (Ichikazu Okuni) since he was still a full-timer at Toei, but the stage was set for the next phase of his life since this was one of the many famous programs produced by Yoshiyuki Tomino.
If that’s a name you don’t recognize, you need to watch more Gundam. The original Mobile Suit Gundam (1979) was Tomino’s next project, which went on the air the very same broadcast day as Yamato 2‘s final episode; a fitting passing of the torch to the next phase of anime history. Gundam, like Yamato, was a ratings bust at first, but Tomino was a storytelling powerhouse and became the hardest working producer at Nippon Sunrise when he turned in one groundbreaking series after another. Kogawa was Tomino’s character designer for three years running, starting with Legendary Giant Ideon in 1980 and continuing with Battle Mecha Xabungle (1981) and Aura Battler Dunbine (1982).
Kogawa’s popularity reached an all-time high during these years. His dynamically-posed, upshotted characters were everywhere, animated in the shows and practically leaping out of an endless number of paintings on books and records. But he wasn’t a solo act anymore, since he’d founded Bibo Studio in 1979 and started gathering an army of protoges to participate in Tomino’s non-stop production juggernaut.
The roster included fledgling character designer Hiroyuki Kitazume, animation director Ichiro Itano (whose million-missile space battle scenes would soon become a highlight of Macross), and another character artist named Toshiyuki Kubooka, who did a lot of package art for Yamato on home video. Other studio members were Hidetoshi Oomori (director of the “Deprive” segment of Robot Carnival), Naoyuki Onda, Toshihiro Hirano, Masayuki Yagi, Eiichi Endo, Hideaki Sakamoto, and Junichi Watanabe. Yet another protoge was character designer Norio Shioyama, who would become another Sunrise heavyweight with Dougram, Votoms, Galient, and Samurai Troopers. Click on any of those names and the mighty Anime News Network will show you just how far one man’s influence can travel.
Kogawa began to ease himself out when Tomino started production on Heavy Metal L-Gaim (1984), giving Kitazume his big break as a character designer (working in concert with superstar Mamoru Nagano) and lining him up to continue onto Zeta Gundam (1985) and Gundam Double Zeta (1986). Kitazume’s Gundam association continues to this day, but he also took time out to do some Yamato video art and participate in the early development of Resurrection in 1993.
While stepping away from Tomino, Kogawa stepped toward producing his own material, drawing manga for Tokuma Shoten’s Motion Comic from 1983-84 and then single-handedly writing, producing, designing, and directing two original SF/fantasy videos, Greed and Cool Cool Bye from 1984-85. He also continued to preside over the other artists at Bibo Studio as they worked on new programs for Tatsunoko such as Southern Cross (known outside Japan as The Robotech Masters), Mecadoc, and others.
Yoshinobu Nishizaki came calling again in 1984 with a new project, and Kogawa was his first choice to take on the character design. It was a feature film called Odin, Photon Space Sailor Starlight, an attempt to begin a new post-Yamato franchise. It inherited the high production values of Final Yamato, but was hampered by a disjointed script formed out of the first three episodes of a proposed 12-hour TV miniseries. Despite the movie’s failure to catch fire with Yamato fans, Nishizaki looked for more opportunities to work with Kogawa. Nishizaki did commission at least one new piece of Yamato art from him, which appeared on the covers of the fan club magazine in 1986 (lower left). Shown at lower right is an earlier painting he did for the cover of Tokuma Shoten’s Yamato Perfect Manual 1 in 1983.
Kogawa’s work even hit Saturday morning American TV in a 1986 TMS series called Galaxy High School, for which he served as animation director. During this time, he authored two of the first textbooks on anime production in 1985 and 86, both of which were updated and reissued under the title Basics and Practical Skills of Animation Drawing/Design Method in 2007 (shown below left). This was the beginning of his career as an instructor, and after Bibo Studio was dissolved in 1989, he went on to lecture and teach at animation schools.
He kept his feet wet during the 90s, working as a storyboard artist and art director for a few productions (usually under a penname) such as Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Casshan: Robot Hunter, and Tekkaman Blade. He also did a stint as the animation director and character designer for two PC Engine Games, Crusader Knight (above right) and Dunbine.
After a long hiatus, he returned to full-scale production in 2005 on an anime feature film titled Ashita Genki ni Nare! [Tomorrow Will be a Brighter Day!], greatly enjoying his work again as a character designer and animation director. The film was based on a book by writer Ebina Kayoko; it takes place in 1945 during the Tokyo air raids, focusing on a brother and sister who are thrown into poverty as war orphans. Similar to a much more downbeat film named Grave of the Fireflies, the movie’s characters endure the age of anxiety immediately after the war in a thoughtful study of the dignity of life and the nobility of love.
Kogawa’s next project was a complete shock, a highly-stylized 2007 TV anime titled Sayonara Zetsubo-Sensei [So Long, Mr. Despair]. Series director Akyuki Shinbo (a major otaku) is a big fan, so he hired Kogawa to take charge of the storyboards. Visit the official website for the series here.
And now, at last, we arrive at 2008/09 and the production of Yamato Resurrection. If you’ve read this far, you should have a clear idea of the pedigree Tomonori Kogawa brings to the table. The stills on this page represent every character scene that appears in the 8-minute promotional piece, a tiny taste of what will almost certainly be a gourmet banquet.
Click here for a Kogawa image collection
Early movie coverage in Japanese media, both from sports newspapers dated May 18, 2009.
Ad for a convenience store ticket lottery to win a commemorative Yamato bag.
And there’s a nice Kodai hero shot by Kogawa himself to further whet the appetite.