INTERVIEW: Studio Bones Co-Founder Toshihiro Kawamoto

Fanime invited the legendary Toshihiro Kawamoto, the co-founder of studio Bones. He is best known as the character designer and director of Cowboy Bebop. As an animator, he worked on many notable anime including Sword of the Stranger, Ouran High School Host Club, Noragami, and Space Dandy to name a few. We had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with Kawamoto-san in San Jose.

Thank you for your time! We went to your panel earlier today, it was very exciting. Thank you for showing the video and everything about what you’ve done so far. 

Toshihiro Kawamoto (K): Thank you very much for coming to the panel. 

What are your day-to-day responsibilities at Studio Bones since you work on a lot of animations and character design? 

K: I do have my own responsibilities as one of the co-founders of Studio Bones. Of course, there’s a lot of term projects going on at the same time. My main job is focused on the creative side of things and the art. But, I also have the responsibility of promoting Studio Bones and raising their reputation, marketing things and supporting all the members of the team. 

What are the kind of things do you check with the art?

K: I don’t personally check to make sure that everything’s on track, not every single thing. But ever since I’ve worked on Cowboy Bebop, all the people that I’ve worked with or people that I’ve worked with before–like my friends–and of course, the young animators will ask for advice and of course ask other veteran animators. 

So personally, I will feel responsible for making sure the character designs are coming out correct and my designs make sense to everyone else. But otherwise, everyone else has their own individual responsibility to get the work done and I won’t check every single person’s work. 

In terms of Studio Bones, there are some times when I don’t have a personal responsibility for a certain project–maybe I’ll already done with something. Studio Bones is split into five different teams, and so I’ll lend my help wherever it’s needed. If someone from one of the teams is lacking some kind of support, then I’ll jump in. That’s just kinda my daily day-to-day work: just jumping in and helping where it’s needed. 

In terms of Studio Bones work, I do a huge variety of different kinds of artwork all for the different teams and different projects. 

via Funimation

Splitting into five different teams is quite interesting. What led to that decision to break Bones into five different teams to work on the different projects? 

K: Originally, it started out because of the increased number of projects. It started out with having two different kinds of teams: A-studio worked on original series while the other team worked on the Escaflowne movie, which was a partnership with Sunrise. Back when there were only two teams, we worked on the Cowboy Bebop movie and RahXephon. But then a new project came up, the opportunity to work on Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Once we got to that point, we realized we don’t have enough space or we don’t have enough manpower to get the work done. So we created the C-team. It wasn’t that we created five teams from the get-go. It just grew to five teams. 

Bones has also done an excellent job in adapting Western characters and Western settings in animes like Cowboy Bebop, Blood Blockade Battlefront, Space Dandy, and Bungo Stray Dogs. How does the studio approach their research when creating shows with this Western feel to them? 

K: In terms of Blood Blockade Battlefront, that came from Toho because of the original work from Shueisha. They already had set the tone for the Western feel, so Studio Bones just tried to portray that feeling , we were told from Toho. Although I don’t know the exact details of how these kinds of jobs come to Studio Bones, due to Cowboy Bebop setting the pace for Studio Bones being able to take on Western themes, it’s brought us a lot of opportunities to do similar kinds of work. 

All these different companies that come to Studio Bones with these kinds of projects already know and trust Studio Bones to do these kinds of work. And since Studio Bones usually well-known for it, the companies usually come to us directly. 

Can I talk a bit about Blood Battlefront Blockade

Oh, absolutely! We love Blood Blockade Battlefront!

K: Every single time I do any kind of animation or adaptation, I take into careful consideration the artistic themes, visual style, and try to accurately express those points. When I first tried to submit some concepts of the designs and the visuals, the director actually came back and said no. I was very shocked. “Oh my god!” *everyone laughs* “What am I going to do? What is the director looking for?” So I had to go back and forth with the director to get more details on what exactly went wrong and how it could be better. 

For the original manga artist, Nightow, he was also a big fan of Trigun and Cowboy Bebop. So I thought “Oh so he’s already a fan of Cowboy Bebop… Maybe he’s looking for more of a Cowboy Bebop flavor!” Once I added that style to the concept art, then it all turned out pretty well and we were very excited and happy. 

In my panel, I discussed how in Noragami, the original creator was very excited about Cowboy Bebop and was so happy to work with me because of Cowboy Bebop. But for myself, I really wanted to experience different styles and challenges. It’s kind of a conflicting thing among my work: a lot of people come to me because of Cowboy Bebop, but I wanted to stay away from doing the same thing. 

So from the director of Blood Blockade Battlefront, I had a pamphlet from the Cowboy Bebop movie and he asked me to autograph it. So Cowboy Bebop left a really deep impression, just like with Noragami

I guess, it seems like all these people who were raised watching Cowboy Bebop and grew up watching it are now creators themselves, whether as directors or as manga artists. It really feels that they all are really heavily influenced by Cowboy Bebop. So for me, I sometimes think to myself, “In these past twenty years, how much have I exactly grown if everyone keeps going back to Cowboy Bebop.” 

Very awesome, last question!

K: I’m sorry that my explanations are so long and that we’re running out of time. 

It’s okay! We love to hear more about it; we love to hear about the shows that we enjoy. 

K: *sighs with relief* Oh, okay. That’s good. 

Do you have any final remarks? Any final comments to people who will read this article? 

K: I’m really thankful to all the fans who take the time to watch my work. In terms of the industry for Japanese animation, there’s always the question of “How far is it going to reach?” or “Who’s going to be watching it outside of Japan?” But in terms of America or all over the world, I’m doing all these interviews, people are going to be reading it in articles, and I would’ve never imagined twenty-years ago of this kind of thing happening today. 

I feel that I’m very fortunate to have these opportunities and I’m really happy and satisfied to be where I am at now. I’m very grateful for how people see my work and animes, and how it influences people on an individual level. 

Thank you very much!

Special thanks to Fanime 2019 for the opportunity and Kawamoto-san for his time.

Leave a Reply