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Kunio Okawara (大河原 邦男 Ōkawara Kunio?) is a mechanical designer and the first person to be accredited as such in the anime industry. Okawara has designed mecha for the Gundam and Brave Series franchises, as well as those of numerous Super Robot and Real Robot shows.

He was born and currently lives in Inagi, Tokyo, where he works out of the studio within his home.

This page only covers his Gundam works.

Biography

Formative years

Okawara attended Tokyo Zokei University as a student in its graphic design department, moving to its textile design department one year later. Following graduation, he had been assigned to a position as a fashion designer at the apparel company Onward Kashiyama Co. Ltd., where he also drew display backgrounds for their specialty store. Through the experience of drawing background art, he was led to take an art position at the animation company Tatsunoko Production; there, he (on suggestion from art director Mitsuki Nakamura) was assigned to design the enemy mecha for Science Ninja Team Gatchaman—soon devoting his time to that brand of design almost exclusively thereafter during Tatsunoko's production of Hariken Polymer and Tekkaman: The Space Knight. This would prompt Nakamura to found the internal Tatsunoko "Mechaman Design Office" with Okawara, where Okawara would receive the first ever recorded industry credit of "mechanical designer." Ultimately, he would go on to design of the title mecha of the show Gowappā 5 Godam, hitting his stride at the company.

Sunrise, Inc.

Following the first two Time Bokan series in 1978, Okawara would leave Tatsunoko Production as an employee, striking out on his own as an independent contractor for "mechanical design." In addition to handling occasional design contracts from his old employer, he became a fixture at the studio Nippon Sunrise (one half of the studio that would later become Sunrise, Inc.). His first assignment from the studio would be principal mechanical designer on the Super Robot show Invincible Steel Man Daitarn 3, directed by Yoshiyuki Tomino. Tomino would soon ask Okawara to continue to work with him on a new robot-oriented television project that he had tentatively named "Gunboy." In a then unheard-of move, Tomino instructed Okawara to design more "realistic," practically-designed title mecha for the series, closer to lines of the "powered armor" described in the Robert A. Heinlein novel "Starship Troopers," rather than the fanciful iron giants depicted since the airing of Mazinger Z. The result would be Mobile Suit Gundam: a show which would cause a model kit boom in Japan and spark a new interest in mecha design, as well as originate the entire Real Robot genre prevalent among televised anime in the 1980s.

Following Mobile Suit Gundam, Okawara would continue to design mecha for later entries in the emerging Gundam franchise as well as many later Real Robot shows emerging from Sunrise. Notable in the 1980s alone were his works on Fang of the Sun Dougram, Armored Trooper VOTOMS, Combat Mecha Xabungle and Blue Comet SPT Layzner. The late 1980s and early 1990s would soon see him joined by other mechanical designers working on various entries in the Gundam franchise such as Kazumi Fujita, Yutaka Izubuchi, Mamoru Nagano, Mika Akitaka, Makoto Kobayashi and Hajime Katoki, all of whom would provide their own "take" on Okawara's original work. Okawara himself would take note, their designs in turn inspiring him to expand the scope of his own.

In the early 1990s, many of Okawara's designs made an unexpected turn back toward those of classic Super Robots with Brave Exkaiser, the first show in Sunrise's Brave Series funded by Transformers manufacturer Takara. As the series of shows continued, Okawara would go on to design the principal robot for every entry in the Brave Series, culminating in his design of almost every robot seen in The King of Braves GaoGaiGar—the series's final televised entry—as well as the show's OVA sequel, The King of Braves GaoGaiGar FINAL.

In 2004, Okawara's fame as a mecha designer led him to be contracted by the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, Ishikawa to design a type of head-mounted display used in the museum's "SYS*O17" electronic exhibit, created by Mathieu Briand. While describing the exhibit to museum management, Briand had referred to the subtle shape of Gundam's mecha when describing the displays he had intended to use; this in turn had led to the museum bringing Okawara into the project.

History of Gundam Works

Chronologically listed
  • Principal mechanical design
  • Principal mechanical design
  • Mechanical design
  • "Original Mechanical Designer" (mecha works later redesigned by Hajime Katoki)
  • Mechanical design

Trivia

  • When asked what the favorite of his works was during an interview, Okawara chose his designs for Shipū! Iron Leager.

References

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