Taking the road from the past to the present! An interview with animation creator Tomonori Kogawa, active on this road for 40 years
Interview by Yoshinori Nozawa, published by Animate Times on January 31, 2018. See the original article here.
Do you know the name Tomonori Kogawa? He is a legend in the anime industry, active as a frontline animation creator from the 1970s to the present. He worked with Director Yoshiyuki Tomino on many robot anime such as Space Runaway Ideon, Combat Mecha Xabungle, and Aura Battler Dunbine, known to a wide generation through the popular game Super Robot Taisen [Great War].
In addition, he is still active and participates in Space Battleship Yamato 2202 as a member of the animation staff. Here we talk about his life as an animator for both film and TV anime.
Tomonori Kogawa profile
Born 1950 in Hokkaido. His career in animation began with Star of the Giants (1968) and original Tatsunoko works including Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (1972) and Hurricane Polymar (1974). He did character design on Farewell to Yamato (1978) and served as overall animation director, recording a big hit in movie history.
In the late 70s he began working with Director Yoshiyuki Tomino on Invincible Steel Daitarn 3 (1978) through to Heavy Metal L-Gaim (1984) and played an active part in robot anime produced by Sunrise. He worked on many different anime with multiple pen names, including Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995).
Since 2000, he has worked on Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei (2007), Yamato Resurrection (2009), Folktales from Japan (2012), Yamato 2199 (2012), Lupin III (2015) and continues working on such productions as 6HP – Six Hearts Princess (2017).
Major titles: Gatchaman (1972), Hurricane Polymar (1974), Farewell to Yamato (1978), Galaxy Express 999 (1978), Daitarn 3 (1978), Ideon (1978), Xabungle (1982), Dunbine (1983), L-Gaim (1984), Odin: Photon Space Sailor Starlight (1985), Space Knight Tekkaman Blade (1992), Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei (2007), Yamato Resurrection (2009), Lupin III: A Woman Named Mine Fujiko (2015).
See a longer profile on Anime News Network here.
Character design and overall animation director for Farewell to Yamato
at 27 years old
Interviewer: You are currently participating in key animation for Space Battleship Yamato 2202.
Kogawa: Nobuyoshi Habara, who was in charge of mecha for Yamato Resurrection, became the Director of Yamato 2202, and the relationship comes from there. Mr. Habara said, “I want you to draw Zordar on the Comet Empire side,” and I said, “I’ll do it if you don’t revise my originals.” (Laughs) So I joined.
I said that I might draw all the Comet Empire characters at first, but I think there are various schedule demands on the studio side and various other circumstances, so I only draw key animation for the enemy side upon request.
Interviewer: Yamato 2202 is a remake of the big hit movie Farewell to Yamato (1978) and the TV version Yamato 2. At that time, you were in charge of character design for Farewell and served as the overall animation director in your twenties. Do you remember how you came to participate in that work?
Kogawa: I remember it well. At that time I was 27 years old. Mr. Yokoi of Toei Productions loved me and wanted me to do character design and direct animation for a feature film to be released in the spring. Then, by chance, Yamato Producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki brought his proposal for a new Yamato movie to Toei animation.
So the plan for me to direct a feature film and do character design turned into Yamato. But the part I haven’t told you is that when Mr. Yokoi told me about this I immediately answered that “I don’t want to be the general director.” I thought Mr. Nishizaki would be uneasy about taking on an unknown youngster.
I met with Mr. Nishizaki for the first time at a meeting. Only one other staff member had been called in before me. In fact, I had helped out a little bit with key animation on the Yamato TV series, but it wasn’t very much and Mr. Nishizaki didn’t know me.
When I did my first roughs of the characters, I met with the design supervisor Leiji Matsumoto. He said, “The style of Yuki Mori is different. She doesn’t have a woman’s body like that.” So I redrew her again immediately and wanted to say, “It isn’t a female body, it’s Yuki’s body.” I thought, “I have a passion for drawing women.” (Laughs) That’s what our first meeting was like, and I met with Mr. Matsumoto many times after that, so it’s not like we’re not on good terms. (Laughs)
Interviewer: After Farewell you worked together with Leiji Matsumoto on the TV anime for Galaxy Express 999.
Kogawa: That’s right. Someone else was in charge of character design for 999 at first, but they decided to move on so a request came to me for character design and directing. I left that program after a big fight and went to help out on Osamu Tezuka’s Phoenix 2772 for Tezuko Pro (1980). I got a call from the 999 director saying, “Everything’s good, please come back after Phoenix is over.”
After a while, Space Runaway Ideon (1980) started at Sunrise, so I made my second withdrawal from 999 peacefully. I had drawn characters without looking at Mr. Matsumoto’s original. Since I had previously revised characters and made a character lineup, I didn’t refer to manga images. But Mr. Matsumoto was very pleased with the work I did on 999.
Interviewer: I see. Getting back to Yamato, I heard that Farewell to Yamato was a movie made in a very short time. How long did it take?
Kogawa: It was an extremely difficult five months. (Laughs) At that job, I slept at my desk without going back home. As the overall animation director, I did the character designs and general drawing supervision, but I didn’t think that amount of work could be done in five months. Considering that period, there was no way I could look through all the visuals.
Various things went on there in those five months. Initially, there was a person who was in charge of drawing mecha, Noboru Ishiguro, who came onto the Farewell site as a technical director. He took charge of the mecha about halfway through. One time, Mr. Ishiguro brought me original mecha animation that couldn’t be finished. In that case, I made corrections and kept it a secret from the production.
Interviewer: Farewell also had the shocking content of most of the characters dying, and it became a big hit. What kind of response did your work get?
Kogawa: Not much, really, but I heard stories about the big audiences that it drew in. While it was playing I went to a theater and saw the audience’s reaction. After the screening was over I sat in a chair in the lobby and looked around. Young kids were pleased, but their parents were saying, “It’s not just a war movie.” That’s how older people looked at it.
Originally, Farewell was meant to be the conclusion of Space Battleship Yamato, so all the characters died. But in the long run, sequels were made and it kept on going. (Laughs)
Memories of Ideon, Be Invoked and the struggle with CG for Golgo 13
Interviewer: After that, the anime boom occurred and various feature films were made, such as the Mobile Suit Gundam trilogy from Sunrise, the movie version of Space Runaway Ideon. Ideon, A Contact (1982) was a compilation of the TV series. It had a fair amount of new parts too, didn’t it?
Kogawa: No, not so much…there were very few new shots for the compilation. Ideon was on TV for nearly a year and was canceled. There was no talk at all about making movies, but Sunrise wanted me to continue working for them, so I was on site for a long time.
There were four episodes that couldn’t be broadcast due to the cancelation, but the production pushed forward. So the Ideon feature film isn’t a actually a movie, it was the rest of the TV series. But it was decided to release it as a movie while it was being made, so we changed a little at the end. Just a little. (Laughs)
The unaired TV episodes were the “invocation” of the movie, and the animation was done by those who I mentored at my studio, Bibow. I did all the animation revisions. I was the animation director, a key animator, and also did animation correction. I couldn’t do that now.
Interviewer: All the characters died in Ideon, Be Invoked, didn’t they? What do you think of the last scene where the characters are wiped out?
Kogawa: The characters die and become souls and have a “Let’s be happy” conversation. In the theory of life, a person who took someone else’s life is reborn and cannot ever be happy. However, I thought that was meaning was unnecessary in the creation of animation. I was the one in charge of visualizing that world, and I wanted to do something with that image.
Interviewer: Golgo 13 was released the following year (1983), and became the first work to introduce computer graphics to Japanese anime movies in earnest. You were involved with the title of “choreography.” What kind of work was it, specifically?
Kogawa: Choreography is the job of seeing how to movie things. I was involved in the movement of CG models, figuring out how to integrate the helicopter movement. (See the sequence on Youtube here.)
The overseas SF movie Tron (1982) was the world’s first full-CG film, and there were three Disney animators who had the role of supervising the movement timing. Therefore, my work on Golgo 13 was like that of a Disney animator on Tron.
I worked in a department at Toyo Links on a video graphics computer called Links-1, which was mainly developed by Professor Kimura of Osaka University. At that time I had to make the software while the hardware was being made, and it was an incredible time. The CG staff kept saying, “Please wait a moment, please wait a moment,” and I couldn’t enter that field at all. I couldn’t readily start to make CG models, so I didn’t advance with that.
In the long run, I left it to the young CG staff to make the models first, and I thought about how it would look if we made adjustments to the movement. I was confident that the timing would look good if I could measure it well. But at the last stage they said that wouldn’t be possible. I thought, “What am I going to do?”
Well, I remember that I enjoyed talking to the college students on the CG team. Because of the conditions, I went to the studio constantly. But I don’t remember much about what sort of things I did by myself in those days.
Interviewer: CG technology is now indispensable to the current anime and movie industries, but back in the 80s the high hurdles were unimaginably difficult…
Kogawa: Now you can repaint the colors on a PC screen in an instant. Shall I tell you how much processing power the Links-1 had at that time?
There’s a particle on a PC screen called a dot [pixel], isn’t there? After I gave instructions to change the color of the dots that filled a screen, I went home. When I got back to work the next morning, the progress rate was 70%. That was a time when only 70% of the total color could be changed overnight. Does that give you a rough idea of what we could do with such processing speed?
If someone who draws on a computer using software now sees the CG part of Golgo 13, they might think it could be done easily. But at that time, it took a serious amount of time to make one of the CG skulls that appears in the opening. (See it here.)
Interviewer: Did you have a chance to meet and talk with the animation staff and the director Osamu Dezaki?
Kogawa: No, I didn’t. The labor for the anime part and the CG part moved completely separate from each other.
I loved Takao Saito’s Golgo 13 manga in Big Comic from the beginning, but I’ve never seen the completed anime movie once. Of course, I saw the CG part made with the Links-1 at the time.
I don’t know the details of the process that introduced CG to Golgo. It seems that the movie’s producer Mataichiro Yamamoto was friends with Koichi Omura, who was involved with CG production as the head of Toyo Links. I think maybe it was a story of them wanting to do something together.
2009, back to the Yamato scene. Thoughts about the late Producer Nishizaki
Interviewer: Yamato Resurrection was made in 2009, after the long absence following Final Yamato (1983). You became involved in a Yamato movie again. Did Producer Nishizaki ask you to participate in Yamato?
Kogawa: I got a phone call from Mr. Nishizaki saying, “I’ve been looking for you, Mr. Kogawa. I want you to help me create a new Yamato.” He trusted me completely to do character design, but Mr. Nishizaki would play tricks such as asking other people like Shinya Takahashi to do designs and put them in. (Laughs) I said a lot about that, and when I gave him too many opinions he fell silent. I didn’t say anything, then he promised that I could decide on the designs.
With Resurrection I worked to make it a genuine Yamato movie. The real thing, which wouldn’t look like a manga. I created characters that completely got rid of the manga atmosphere that was unique to Leiji Matsumoto. Therefore, I did a design for Dr. Sado that didn’t look like Sado, but since Mr. Nishizaki said, “It doesn’t look like Sado,” I made him into the character from the old series.
First, I made four or five female characters, and Mr. Nishizaki was impressed with the designs. I like pretty characters, so I decided to draw them like Shinya Takahashi and Yasuyuki Kunitomo. Even I can draw pretty characters, and if you give me such a request at the start, I can create a design to that order.
One day during the production I brought some of Kunitomo’s manga in with me and asked Mr. Nishizaki, “What do you think of this manga?” I ultimately wanted to change nine of the designs and thought that I had to just show it to solve it, so I showed all nine at the next meeting and they were completely rejected. “Well, that was useless.” So the characters that were similar to Kunitomo’s style weren’t used in the end, but their hairstyles or other parts remain in the character.
Mr. Nishizaki was a person who was clever in various ways, including his sense of music, but he wasn’t a man who could understand a design at all. I didn’t find that out until I actually drew something and showed it to him. Resurrection was a movie with a long lead time, and I spent a year on the storyboard alone. The animation took more tha a year, too.
Interviewer: The Director’s Cut version was produced two years after the initial release. Some details of the story changed, including the visuals. The purpose of redoing the final scene was to match Mr. Nishizaki’s first vision.
Kogawa: That was nice and neat. I didn’t think there would be a nude scene of Yuki in the first version.
At the initial production meeting for Resurrection, he asked me, “Do you have any ideas?” and I joked that we should put in a nude scene of Yuki. He said, “Oh! A nude would be good!” so I decided to do it for real. However, because the nude image that was done by the staff wasn’t very good, I thought I would redrew it in a revision round. But Nishizaki said he liked it, so I decided to leave it and it didn’t get fixed at all. But that scene was cut from the Director’s Cut.
At the end of the first version, the crew on Yamato’s third bridge dies from exposure to outer space, which wasn’t impossible. In Farewell to Yamato, Dessler opens the hatch of his battleship, and he’s the only one who flies out into space and dies. If that was the case, everyone should have died in vacuum. But it’s the same as questioning why a flag would flutter in space. Yamato is all about drawing attractive anime-like things.
Interviewer: Mr. Nishizaki passed away after the first release of Resurrection…
Kogawa: At the time I was called by Mr. Nishizaki to meet with him, I was busy working on something for Sunrise. When he said, “I’m going to make Yamato again, would you like to help me? I’ll pay you this if you help me,” and he put a 1 million yen roll of bills on the desk. [Approx. $10,000 US.]
And I refused. “No, I’m really busy and I don’t have time. Do you think I’ll do it for a pile of money?” It wasn’t a matter of money. The story that came before it wasn’t Yamato Resurrection. I would not help with Resurrection at all.
But even after Farewell to Yamato, Mr. Nishizaki’s anime has helped me out. I did a little for Space Carrier Blue Noah (1979) and I helped out with a longer Yamato piece in which an enemy appeared that looked like pandas. [The Dark Nebulans from The New Voyage, with the dark coloring around their eyes.]
There was also trouble when I worked for Mr. Nishizaki, but although I had endless complaints I didn’t dislike it. It’s no use speaking ill of someone who has passed away. I’m someone who studies hard, and I think he was an interesting person who had a good sense of music and visual aspects. So as you can expect, I was sad when I heard he had passed away.
Teaming up with Director Yoshiyuki Tomino opened the curtain on the robot anime era of Sunrise
Interviewer: Next, I’d like to ask you about working on TV anime and chase down the history of the Sunrise robots that participate in [the video game] Super Robot Taisen. When you worked with Yoshiyuki Tomino on Invincible Steel Daitarn 3, you only designed characters for the enemy side. Why didn’t you do them for the hero side?
Kogawa: I had worked on Hurricane Polymar (1974) in the past for Tatsunoko Pro, and I was supposed to work as a director on Daitarn 3, but I got a call saying, “I’d like to ask for some character designs.”
I couldn’t get it on my schedule for about a week, so I visited Sunrise headquarters by myself. There were about three people examining character designs for Daitarn 3 that had been done by someone else.
Tomino said, “Oh, you saw a bad part.” I was worse because I couldn’t open up my schedule sooner, so I tried to tell him that I didn’t mind if the characters were decided by other people. Then the producer took me aside and said, “Nothing’s been decided on the enemy side yet, so could you please just do enemy characters?” I decided to take that on.
If I had taken the main characters, it probably would have looked like Ideon [which came later]. I first thought I wanted to take a realistic route with the characters, but since it’s my principle not to do the same thing as before, the characters of Ideon then would have looked completely different from what was actually broadcast.
Interviewer: Ideon was your next teamup with Director Tomino. You didn’t just design the characters, but also the mecha. How did you come to do both?
Kogawa: On the Ideon staff, I was involved with a mecha design studio called Submarine, and the person in charge of production progress told me, “I was told to by Mr. Tomino to bring you pictures of the mecha that appear.” As a result, the story was that I was to somehow design mecha. So I did the heavy mecha Rogg Mack and Ganga Rub, and did the design for Zanza Rub afterward. I also drew a three-sided diagram of the restaurant where Ganga Rub was eating.
Mecha can be a robot or a car or a vehicle, and their form does not change. It’s easier to draw mecha than to think up a human character. In my twenties, I figured out how to draw passes [multiple angles] and I could draw anything. There are a lot of people who find it difficult to draw mecha. I wonder why.
Interviewer: Everyone on the enemy Buff Clan side have their bangs cut straight, which is a unique look. Was there a source for that image?
Kogawa: There was no source. But when I thought about it later, I wondered if there was a favorite image left in my mind from [Gerry Anderson’s] UFO. I liked the [moonbase] operatives in that work. When I look back, maybe that character made an impression on me. I think so.
Interviewer: When it was decided to cancel the program and leave some episodes unaired, was there any discussion among the staff about how to fold up the story?
Kogawa: There was not. I was told by Sunrise to just continue working on-site. After a while, the story about making the movies came up. I think it would have been tough for the director to finish the TV series by tightening up the story.
Xabungle and Dunbine
Kogawa: That’s right. The Ideon series had a few gags in the middle and I wanted to do more gags, so I took the characters in a different direction than realistic and it heated up.
Mr. Yoshikawa and I were good friends and I heard that he would be the director of this next work, so I came up with four or five new characters and brought them in. He thought he would be seeing realistic characters like in Ideon, so he was surprised. He had designed the characters for Fang of the Sun Dougram the previous year and said, “I can only draw Dougram characters. Can you do some more characters to go with these?”
I was at a loss for words, but I said, “If the world is decided upon, I’ll draw them to my heart’s content.”
However, I don’t know the circumstances, but Mr. Yoshikawa left the project and Mr. Tomino was chosen as his successor. So when I went into the studio again to make arrangements, he was waiting for me and opened the first door. “Is this OK?” (Laughs) No, it didn’t matter because Sunrise decided on the director.
Interviewer: All the characters of Xabungle have a unique highlight in their eyes, expressed as a single slanted line. How did you come up with that idea?
Kogawa: One day…I just suddenly got the idea somehow. The highlight in the eyes is reflected light. If you look at a square light, the reflection will be square. I’ve been frequently asked, “Why is the eye highlight of Xabungle characters just a single line?” I say that I’m lazy, and “There’s a long fluorescent tube in the sky of Planet Zola” but that’s actually not true.
Production on Xabungle ran side by side with the Ideon feature film, and I was only directing the first episode. I wanted to do gags with Xabungle, but I didn’t want it to be a slapstick thing. But while I was away both the directing and the drawing became ordinary, and I thought that wasn’t good.
After I finished working on Ideon and returned to the site, I took charge in the middle stage and tried various things. There was the feeling that it ended in a slapstick atmosphere after all.
Interviewer: The next program after Xabungle was Aura Battler Dunbine (1983). It was ahead of the times with robot anime from a different fantasy world.
Kogawa: There was a rumor that fantasy wouldn’t be accepted in Japan, but since Mr. Tomino did it, I wanted to go on the adventure, too.
There was no meeting to create the worldview, so I just received something like a system diagram. The story was that the land was divided into the “country of Na” and the “country of Mi.” I got a simple description of the world and the system diagram and started creating the characters. However, there was something like a premonition that the story would stagnate if it was only a fantasy, so I thought in the middle stage there should be a development that took the main characters and robots out of the other world and down to Earth. The Earth part was tough for me. The sensibilities of fantasy have a high degree of difficulty.
The request came for me to do the second robot, and I made a design that was conscious of the form of Dunbine. When Tomino saw the sketch he liked it and said, “It’s an adult hobby.”
After that, the sponsor requested a gimmick where the second robot could transform. What I designed at first was in a style that didn’t seem to transform, so as I incorporated a toy-like idea I put together the design for Billbine. I made a model out of balsa wood as I thought about the transformation system.
Eventually it became something like the toy that the sponsor wanted to do, and now it’s a mystery that Billbine is popular with the fans. It wasn’t a robot that matched the worldview of the work.
Dunbine was really hard. That’s why I didn’t do very much on the second half. Emotionally, you should only watch the first two episodes. (Laughs)
Interviewer: On Heavy Metal L-Gaim (1984), you had the title of animation director rather than character designer or key animator.
Kogawa: Mr. Tomino asked me to the be the animation director, so I was in the production meetings from the start.
But to the people who were directing the individual episodes, I just conveyed what Mr. Tomino said at the meetings. Then I was asked to stop that kind of thing. “When you talk about directing, only tell us things that are relevant to drawing. It’s no use just saying what Tomino talked about at the meeting.” The site became boring because of that feeling, and nothing good came out of it.
I was also told to take charge of the storyboard for the opening and ending for L-Gaim, and I wasn’t motivated to do it at all. I listened to the theme song endlessly for about three days, and it took 30 minutes to put together the storyboard. Even if the images are stiff, that’s really fast.
I don’t know if I felt good about any of this. While it was broadcasting, I drew only one storyboard (for Episode 15). At that time I was really busy because I was involved with so many anime events. I took a script out with me and read it on the move. That was the first time I did a storyboard of the main story.
Interviewer: Didn’t L-Gaim give you a sense of accomplishment?
Kogawa: Now I think it would have been better if I had helped out on Tatsunoko’s Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross (1984), which was happening at the same time.
When the director of Southern Cross asked me for character design, I turned it down because I was busy. But he still came back to ask me again. So I only agreed to do a first draft. If I’d helped out on Southern Cross, I think I could have made it more interesting. The characters were good, and I’m still on good terms with the director now.
Interviewer: Finally, can you tell me about your dreams and aspirations for the future?
Kogawa: What I’d like to do…do you know the boy’s gang movie Nineteen (1987)? I was asked to design the monster that appears in that. I talked to the director about several different design ideas that I drew. Since it was a costume, the studio made a prototype model with clay and showed it with a sense of, “How do you like this?”
There were parts that I thought were a bit different, so I said, “I’m sorry you had to make it so carefully.” I played around with the clay and remade it. At that time, since the body is always honest, I had a feeling like, “This is what I want to do.”
I like to knead the soil, and I haven’t given up yet on making something out of bronze. I wanted to do some kind of modeling when I came to Tokyo, and I think that’s why I’m an animator. So before I die I think I’ll do some clay or bronze sculpture sometime.
Interviewer: Oh, making a bronze statue? That would be wonderful, wouldn’t it? I’d like to see a statue made by you someday. Thank you for your time today! We look forward to your future achievements.
Mr. Kogawa’s artworks for the Sunrise programs discussed here have been collected
into a 144-page hardcover book. Order it from Amazon.co.jp here.
Read more about Mr. Kogawa’s career history here.
Hear about a personal encounter with him on Episode 87 of Speaker Podcast here.
See a Google gallery of Kogawa’s art here.