Kawamori Shōji on conceptualising Frontier: gut feelings and cyborgs
August 14, 2016 6 Comments
Continuing my exploration of the creation of Macross Frontier, this week, I bring to you Kawamori Shōji’s interview from the official fan book. Here, the director delves into the real-life concepts that he drew upon, including some surprising elements of scientific research and the complex ecological systems of the Amazon. He also discusses the fold bacteria that are now featuring in Macross ∆, and how they are relevant to the core theme of communication and discommunication in Macross.
|“What matters when you want to change something is
whether you can come at it from a different angle.”
Love triangles, singing and variable fighters. Along with the Vajra and implant network that support these three elements from the ground up. These are the background settings that give rise to the immense depth of the story before us. In this interview, we probe into the origins of this fantastic world.
As long as they look human, it’d end up being too similar
Could you tell us how you came up with such an unlikely combination—of the Vajra and an implant network—to add to the three pillars of Macross?
Kawamori: Right at the beginning, when I first came up with the idea of doing away with the military solution—the idea that would set Macross apart from everything else—I was of course aware that the world wasn’t so kind as to allow for a war between peoples to be settled by song (chuckles). We felt that it’d be terrible for us to lie about that.
But if (one side) hadn’t actually been exposed to culture, then the culture shock might bring about a momentary ceasefire. And that’s how we came up with the Zentradi.
But if we used the Zentradi as our opponents again, then the material would seem very similar, so we went with an AI for Macross Plus, and with the Protodeviln, who are like super-characters, for Macross 7. But both of them still had human shape.
After that, I went around to a lot of different places, scouting and collecting material I might want to use—the hinterlands of China, India, Nepal, Borneo, the Amazon and the Pantanal wetlands, and my interest shifted to looking at ecosystems. And I figured that, since there are so many wars between humans, I’d leave it to something else this time. As long as they look human, it would end up being too similar to previous Macross series. Hence, I thought that perhaps we should make it an alien life-form. One of the original themes in Macross is “discommunication,” so even if such creatures appear to be acting violently to us, they might actually just be really happy (chuckles). I figured that we might be able to use that kind of disconnect if their appearances were monster-like.
However, when it comes to a new Macross series, the first thing we have to decide upon is how to resolve the major conflict through music. Each time, I ask the producers if we can leave out the element of singing (chuckles). But the answer is always “No way!” (chuckles). I also ask if I can drop the triangle, and similarly, I get a “Nope, can’t do that either!” (chuckles).
Honestly, if I could only drop one of them, everything would be so much easier. But with regards to Macross F, the order I received was to “Make it like the original.”
However, I felt we were missing something that would convincingly allow for singing to have an effect on an alien life-form. When I was wrecking my head thinking about this, I came across a hypothesis that the hearts and emotions of living things weren’t just reliant on the brain. In the process of evolution, the hypothesis postulated, “living things have not been thinking just with their brains.”
And that’s where you started putting singing and the intestines together?!
Kawamori: I find that hypothesis interesting because I myself have sometimes thought that our modern societies are warped because we think of the brain alone as the most important organ.
This is just an inference, but because so much of a person’s ego is reliant on the brain, the ego is treated as the person and we place a lot of emphasis on individuality. But there’s a hypothesis that the parts of the ego that aren’t reliant on the brain have already become part of some kind of network.
If we put it into words, it seems pretty strange (chuckles), so we’ve got the fold bacteria doing it, and that’s what the Vajra are.
To use a more familiar example, don’t we say that there are people who can read a situation and people who can’t? Like, when you go somewhere, you sometimes feel that the atmosphere in a room has changed all of a sudden, like along the lines of “Oh, this isn’t good.” It happens especially when you’re on holiday, like, “I shouldn’t turn here.” That kind of feeling is not something that comes to your mind logically; rather, it’s something more intuitive.
There are actually people who have the skill to use and transmit those kinds of bodily sensations—I’ve seen demonstrations of it. And when I saw them, it hit me. The idea that, in the parts that don’t just involve the brain, something is being remotely transmitted. And if so, then perhaps there’s quite a large volume that’s being transmitted in this manner.
And how did you come to connect this to Grace’s theory about the implant network?
Kawamori: It would have been about 3-4 years ago, when I was working on Aquarion. I saw a TV show that showed that implants had come a lot further than I’d imagined at the time.
The Vajra are old. They’re older than the Protoculture.
Kawamori: It was an NHK documentary that journalist Tachibana Takashi1 did a report for. I was surprised to find out just how far cyborg technology had already come.
|Image source. You can also check out some other cyborgs here.|
It’s long been said that it’ll be very difficult to create an artificial brain, and that’s still true. However, the documentary said that cyborgs are actually unbelievably easy to make (chuckles). The idea is that the most difficult part is done by the human brain, and the rest is supplemented by machines—that’s what a cyborg is. In other words, once we came up with the idea of ‘an implant’, there was a whole lot that we could easily do as a result.
It’s all about coming at things from a different angle.
For example, in America, they’re already testing a chip that can augment your memory. That gave me a jolt. If someone were to market this kind of thing in a country like Japan, which has been called a test-taking battleground, people would probably be all over it. And once you insert it into your brain, if it’s a trap of some sort, there’s no way you can reject it. Even the option of cutting of the electricity is out, since it’s your brain that’s been completely taken over.
Is that connected with Grace’s notion of “synchronous thought”?
Kawamori: Right. Grace is someone who thinks with her head. Like “whoever they are, people who rely on words can’t really communicate satisfactorily with each other. But there is a more complete, perfect means of communication—the only problem is the time lag.
Right now, even though we communicate using light-waves, there are problems that arise from time lags. If the lag is significant, then it’s impossible for everyone to be united behind one purpose. But if we can clear that hurdle, then we might be able to create a large speculative system by using a super-high speed network. That’s the idea we came up with.
|The visualisation of Grace’s thought network from episode 24.|
And that networked organism known as the Vajra—there seems to be a theory that it’s like the Bird Human that was in Macross Zero?
Kawamori: To be accurate, they’re different. The Bird Human was actually designed on the basis of the Vajra—probably a result of the Protoculture studying the latter. They may not have been an indigenous people, but they are an indigenous organism. That the Protoculture were able to travel through space in the first place was probably due to the Vajra.
When you were working on Macross Zero, had you already set up what the Vajra are?
Kawamori: No, not to this extent. We just had the premise that the Protoculture hadn’t been first. And with this series, we’ve finally connected those dots.
If we’re talking about miscommunication, then Alto is the type of person who wouldn’t be able to come to an understanding with the Vajra, isn’t he? I mean, he kept going on about “those damned Vajra!”
Kawamori: Well, you could say he’s representative of the average person today, after all.
In truth, being able to communicate without words would be best…but at present, with regards to the problems we have today, if we see a cockroach, we’d just go and squish it. That’s basically how the people of Frontier dealt with the Vajra in the show.
It’s the same with pesticides. If you go to the Amazon, or to Borneo, there’s a long history of logging. I think that what’s happening in those places will not change as long as we ignore the idea of ‘munication’ with organisms that don’t have such large brains.
Right now, what is being called “ecology” is actually “eco-business”—it isn’t really “ecology” at all. We have to fundamentally change our way of thinking. And that’s really, really difficult to do.
But I am making this show in the hope that some people will become interested in these ideas, even if it’s just one in a few thousand.
But if Alto is joined with Sheryl, or perhaps with Ranka, isn’t he fated to contract the V-type virus? And if that happens, won’t he also come to understand the Vajra?
Kawamori: To contract it, huh? …yeah, he may well have contracted it (chuckles). However, it’d be bad if it’s contracted normally and the bacteria go to the brain.
In episode 25, Ranka moves the fold bacteria in Sheryl’s brain to her intestines, doesn’t she?
Kawamori: Not quite. Ranka wasn’t controlling them; rather, because they resonated with her, the fold bacteria came to understand that Sheryl was a different individual, and so they autonomously moved down to her intestines. As long as they stay there, she’ll be fine. It’s dangerous if they remain in the brain.
Though it’s tricky if we try to follow this idea of the “intestinal network” through to its logical conclusion…
For those who are interested, I suggest reading the novels, or that you look up some actual scientific reports on the hypothesis.2 I think it’d be good if you have a look around yourselves, and see what you come up with.
In the end, will you be settling the triangle in the films?
It would be difficult to depict if we just continued on from the ending of the TV series, so we’ll be coming at it from a different angle. Besides, we’re also trying to make the films something that new viewers can enjoy as well.
So, in that sense, I am planning to settle it in some shape or form.
However, because we’ll be arranging the story to fit the movie format, it won’t be exactly the same as in the TV series.
This isn’t a story that we want people to watch just with their heads, so it won’t be meaningful if you just read the plot summary, and you also might not get the message if you watch it on a small screen.
And because there’s a logic that can’t be expressed just in words, we’ve also cut down somewhat on how much dialogue there is.
So we hope that all of you will become citizens of Macross Frontier and join us at the cinema for your first viewings. Of course, you’ll be able to watch it on DVD or BD afterwards as well (chuckles).
But please do watch it at the cinema first. Let’s head out on this journey into deep space together!
I don’t know about you, but this was a bit of an eye-opener for me. Whilst not as amusing as the last two (Yoshino interviews) I’ve translated, it did change the way I saw some elements of Frontier when I went back to get some screen caps, so I’d be interested to find out whether any of you who read it start seeing things a little differently as well.
This is the 10th post in my “On Anime ‘Writing’” project, in which I have been looking at how the key staff of producers, directors and screenwriters work together to plan and write the shows that grace our screens. If you liked it, I hope you’ll check the other posts out, too. And feel free to drop me a note or question—whether here, on twitter, tumblr or ask.fm—about any other series that you’re interested in for behind-the-scenes info!
Disclaimer: As always, the translation is entirely mine, as are any mistakes and misinterpretations. Please do not copy and paste large portions of it anywhere else, though feel free to link to the post itself if you wish.