Mecha Personnel Profile: Kunio Okawara – The First Mechanical Designer

Mechanical Design is an important job in the pre-production process of an anime series, especially for sci fi or mecha anime, genres whose highlights are often the machines. For anime viewers in general and mecha fans in particular, machines with impressive shapes and meticulous details are highly appreciated, so mechanical designers often receive massive amounts of attention and love. Among them, the man who started this profession, as well as one of the famous designers, is Kunio Okawara.

I. Background:
Kunio Okawara, was born on December 26, 1947 in a family in Inagi, Tokyo. He enrolled in graphic design at Tokyo Zokei University, and switched to textile design after a year. After graduating, he worked in one of the largest apparel and textile companies, Onward Kashiyama. However, after a while, he transferred to Tatsunoko Productions so he could work closer to his wife.

Kunio Okawara started drawing backgrounds for Tatsunoko Productions, until he was asked by his boss Mitsuki Nakamura to design mecha for a series called “Science Ninja Team Gatchaman”. From here, Nakamura founded the “Design Office MECHAMAN” with Okawara and it was here that Okawara received the first ever recorded industry credit of “mechanical designer”. Afterwards, Okawara continued to contribute to the studio’s anime series such as Hurricane Polymar and Tekkaman, and designed the main mecha for Gowappa 5 Godam, before leaving the studio and becoming a freelance artist. He continued to take on some design work from his old company, while working with a new partner, studio Nippon Sunrise (now known as Sunrise/Bandai Namco Filmworks).

After mechanical design for Nippon Sunrise’s “Invincible Steel Man Daitarn 3” series, Okawara was commissioned to design mecha and machines for the next project, “Gunboy” (later renamed “Mobile Suit Gundam”), where he made history with the classic designs of the famous MS in the series, such as RX-78-2 Gundam, Zaku II, Dom, etc. After the huge success of Mobile Suit Gundam, Okawara went on to design mecha for most of the Gundam productions, as well as for countless other Sunrise shows.

One of the things that sets Mr. Okawara apart from others in the industry is his approach to work. In interviews, he always emphasized that the reason he initially entered the industry was not because he was extremely passionate about anime and manga, and this allowed him to approach his work from an artisan’s perspective rather than an artist. From this perspective, he carries out each project calmly, only needs to comply with deadlines and is objective about the entire work. He also realized that anime is a team work involving a lot of people, so he always tries to design as closely to the request as possible, with the animators and voice actors in mind, and never misses any deadline.

II. Notable Works:
The amount of mechanical design works produced from “Okawara Workshop” is truly enormous. Not only did he design for nearly all of the Gundam series, he also breathed life into other Real Robot series of Sunrise in the 80s such as Fang of the Sun Dougram, Armored Trooper VOTOMS, Panzer World Galient, Blue Comet Layzner, Galactic Drifter Vifam, Metal Armor Dragonar, Xabungle. The early 90s saw a return to Okawara’s Super Robot designs in series like Madou King Granzort, Raideen The Superior, Shippu! Iron Leaguer, and especially the Brave series. To date, he still accepts mechanical design “orders” and works as a new guest designer for several series. He has over 100 series crediting him as mecha designers.

Kunio Okawara’s talent has had a huge influence on the history of mecha, not only because of his contribution to Gundam, but also because of the influence of his designs on modern mechanical designs. His Fang of the Sun Dougram designs were incorporated directly into BattleTech/MechWarrior, and his designs in Armored Trooper VOTOMS inspired the mechas in Heavy Gear, two franchises that heavily influenced robot designs in today’s Western entertainment media.

His design has a notably practical and blocky designs. He also innovated his designs based on what everyone else was drawing at the time. When creating Gundam, he didn’t want to use the traditional rectangular or pipe-shaped limbs, which is why he used a combination of curves and straight edges for the legs.

It is difficult to imagine the Mecha genre without Mr. Kunio Okawara, because his influence on Mecha is so extensive and immense. Not only did he initiate the mechanical design profession in the entertainment industry, he also breathed life into countless mecha works, and inspired thousands of mechanical designers to this day. This year he turns 75 years old, so I wish Mr. Okawara a long life and the best health to continue pursuing his passion and blessing mecha fans with his designs.

III. Gallery:

See Also: