WARNING: Super long message incoming!!!
When I Googled "Macross canon", it was eye-opening, because of how much material exists showing us how little SK actually cares for canon or continuity. I found this 2013 blog post, citing transcribed interviews with SK <link>, and clicked through to check out its original sources. What follows are key words from SK himself, with some of my own commentary.
SK implied that SDFM was a "story" "based on" in-universe historical facts, and a "story" told through a TV series--as opposed to the "historical facts" and the "real Macross", themselves. He drew a distinction between SDFM TV and Macross reality.
SK says "all" of the Macross iterations have been "fictional" "stories", based upon an in-universe actual war. The TV series is "a story made about the [...] history" subsequent to the arrival of the ASS-1 and then televised. Now, the SDFM TV series was the first story, and the one most closely linked to the actual events, chronologically. But he still says that it is a "fiction after the fact", not "history", and that it is "different" from the "war that actually took place", in a different place from the "real truth", and a "limited" "adapted" "compromise" of "the facts". So once again, he drew a distinction.
Do you have sources for that?
The sources that I can drum up all indicate that SK has embraced the non-canon viewpoint since at least 1998, purportedly back as far as 1995, and likely even before Macross began.
1998 was over 20 years ago. That was before Macross Zero. And 1995, 24 years ago, was right after Macross Plus/Macross 7. How is that "relatively recent"?
The 1995 interview has some other relevant tidbits as to what Kawamori's central tenet has really been, all this time. Please forgive me for doing a hatchet job on the original transcript, but I'm going to re-sequence quotes from it in order to try to make the point more clear.
"Actually, I got to know them [other famous animators] in high school and college through a science fiction convention called Kuri-Con. [...] The people around me were obsessed with science fiction, so I may have been turned off to some aspects of it. Maybe, in one part of my mind, I'd already made the decision not to become an otaku ("hardcore fan")."
This sounds as if, as much as SK clearly loves the intricate technical details of mecha, he never wanted to be seen as a geek or nerd regarding sci-fi story lore. (Recall the 1986 Saturday Night Live skit with Captain Kirk: "Get a Life!") So does he similarly loathe the notion of being hidebound by sci-fi story canon?
"I've always thought of TechnoPolice 21C as one of the trailblazers for original animation.
It was supposed to be a theatrical release, but production problems wouldn't allow that. There were [...] other projects before Macross, and I was sort of involved with all three projects. And it just happened that the Macross idea was approved."
SK was working on a bunch of different shows at the same time in 1981-82. (I have been able to track down mentions of Technopolice, Genocidas, Mobile Suit Gundam, and Ulysses-31, in addition to SDFM.) Macross just happened to be the one that got our attention, the most. We fans need to be careful that we don't assign greater personal significance of the franchise to SK than what he himself assigned to it. SDFM happened in 1982-83, and then he was ready to move on.
Now, he was asked to stay on for the 1984 DYRL film, but notice how much it differs from the TV show. It is pretty clear that SK was not interested in rehashing the exact same story. He wanted to tell a new, different one. And he didn't really care that it contradicted the old one.
1987's Flashback 2012 both dramatized a previously mentioned but unseen event, Minmay's departure for S. Ataria Island; and continued where DYRL left off, with the departure of the Megaroad-1 from Earth. But this entire installment was only a half-hour long, and features maybe 10 minutes of new material, at that. 6 years after his first Macross design work, SK was on the way out. Macross was in his rear view mirror. Or so he hoped...
"The Macross compilation video Flashback 2021 gives hints about Minmei and Misa's future. Is there any chance you'll animate a continuation of that story?
I don't really want to. I've already used Minmei, Misa, and Hikaru in the TV series, and they show up again in the feature version, as well. If they show up for the third time in another movie, you'll be sick of them, too. It won't be a fresh story."
He didn't really want to continue the same story. STAMP.
He even goes so far as to actually project onto fans his feeling of being "sick" of revisiting character storylines from the past. That is not the mindset of someone who cherishes continuity and canon. No, rather, SK was embracing new, fresh stories. He wanted to move forward, without being held back by the past.
"In Macross II, the mothership gets destroyed. What happens after that?
I haven't watched Macross II. [Laughs] So, when it comes to Macross II, "No comment." If I watch it, I know I'll want to comment on it, y'know...?
"Why weren't you involved in Macross II...?
Back then, I had sworn off making sequels. I had my reasons at the time. [Laughs]"
So SK did not like the idea of continuing SDFM any further. He didn't like sequels. DYRL and FB2012 were done and long gone. Fast forward to 1992, and Macross was "so last decade" (1982).
"Previously, you've said that you won't make any sequels. So why are you coming back to Macross now?
In the current animation market, it's getting harder and harder for an original project to be approved. A project has to be based on an already-popular story to stand a chance. Of course, if something's got the name Macross attached to it, it stands to reason that the chances of approval are very high. Even better, the project can be done the way I want it to be done. In the case of Macross Plus, I decided to go with the Macross name and make the series I wanted to make."
This almost sounds like a confession of a cynical attitude towards television and Anime. Even as he said that he wanted to tell a fresh new story, SK said he effectively couldn't. The market and TPTB wouldn't let him. He couldn't do what he really wanted to do.
So he made a Macross show instead. Well, he ostensibly slapped the Macross skin on it, but then, despite that, he went and made the show that he really wanted to make. That it had the UN Spacy kite on its wings was mere coincidence, or circumstance.
"I may not do a sequel about the main characters, but a supporting character might get featured, or a side-story-kind-of-sequel might be a possibility. [...]
"In Macross 7, Max and Miria show up. Why?
I didn't want to use Minmei and Misa and Hikaru, as I mentioned before, but I did want to portray the supporting characters more."
He said that, but notice: he both designed for and directed Macross Plus, while he only designed for Macross 7. If he was so keen on the idea of continuing the story with the familiar characters, like he says, then why didn't he direct that show?
Apparently he picked the former, because as he said, he preferred to work on the fresh new story, with all new characters and plot.
"Also, when I went to the United States, I talked to many people and they all liked Max. Perhaps Americans like "genius pilots" better than Japanese do...? I thought that kind of popularity might prove valuable later down the line, and in a certain sense, it has. You could say the idea to bring Max and Miria back (in Macross 7) was an idea that was born during a visit to the US."
The inclusion of those older characters was apparently in some small way SK's attempt to make Macross 7 appealing to a US audience.
Oh, the irony!
At any rate, it appears to show that Max & Miria were more likely tokens featured for others' amusement, rather than his own. Canonicity and continuity are not near and dear to SK's heart.
"Is there anything you'd like to remake if you had the opportunity?
That would be everything. [Laughs] But I think about the future, for example, with Macross, on which I've worked for so long. In that sense, I'm glad I've been able to work on a variety of things, and what's coming may be more interesting than what's transpired."
Here, while SK does acknowledge that he was happy with his past Macross work, he also--jokingly--says that he would like to remake it. This might at first seem to be inconsistent with and contradictory to what he has said previously (namely, that he wanted to move on to new things). But notice: even if he revisits old aspects of Macross, he says that what he envisions might be "more interesting than what's transpired." More interesting than the past, how? How would he change a retro-Macross for the better?
Regardless, the most relevant thing to notice is that SK openly declares that he would make changes if he were to ever redo past elements of Macross. He doesn't promise to employ a slavish, painstaking effort to be faithful to the source material. His primary interest is in doing something "more interesting" than that.
"Whatever I want to do, the cost of labor is rising, and it's becoming more difficult to make an original story. [...]
There are aspiring animators and mecha designers abroad---do you have any advice for these people?
If I have any advice, it's that I think originality is becoming rare worldwide, so you should aspire to be original."
There he goes again, chanting a familiar mantra. I imagine if Kawamori were ever a male cheerleader, he might say, "Be...inventive, Be, Be...inventive!"
And then there is this 2015 <Forbes article>. Again, please forgive me for slicing up the original text and rearranging the pieces, but it is done for the purpose of hammering home the point that SK has always been this way.
Early on, he says that his artwork began with designs inspired by the Space Battleship Yamato TV show, and then in college, with designs of automobiles and real world spacecraft. I imagine that this sort of derivative work was heavily restricted to the rules, precedents, and norms manifest in what came before. And that is very confining and unpleasant to a creative, artistic type of person.
At any rate, SK's period of confinement was not destined to continue for long. He began working for Studio Nue in his freshman year, and his design work there opened his eyes to new, personally more interesting possibilities:
"I also came to realise that in animation I could still design those kinds of spaceships, as well as anything else I thought was interesting. That in itself was a pivotal moment for me I think.”
Key words there: "anything else I thought was interesting."
Since that time, SK has often said that a major reason for his leaving real world spacecraft design behind was the lack of a meaningful Japanese space program at the time. I do not mean to question SK's integrity by challenging that notion.
But I cannot help but hypothesize that he must not have only been dissuaded away from realistic space designs, but also toward more fanciful ones. This was not only a more practical and lucrative avenue for him as a young man, but also a more attractive avenue for him as the creative type.
“The aspect of transformation, for me anyway, has always been about trying to pursue a sense of originality. There are many things in the world that look good or are already stylish, but once the mecha transforms, the functions of the engines and seats for instance would be lost. In addition, external parts often have to be added to make the mecha transform. When I designed VF-1 Valkyrie 35 years ago, mecha rarely did it all in one self-contained process.”
“Since it didn’t really exist like that back in the day, once it could be achieved then that’s something that I thought would be original. [...]
“So that’s a big drive for me and my work.”
SK valued perfect transformation not just in a toy, but in his Anime mecha designs as well. And he says that this value dovetails with his desire to be different from others who have come before, and to have original elements that set his designs apart from those of others.
But SK was not about to make something fanciful and bizarre, simply in the name of looking fanciful and bizarre. He had been an aspiring real world engineering major at one point, after all. He perceived a need for realistic elements in mecha design, and he was just the person to fulfill that need:
“In the world of animation, there are often instances where there are vehicles that are impossible to take flight but are somehow still able to go airborne. However, as I was once someone who wanted to become a mechanical engineer, I always want to approach these things with a greater degree of realism. [...]
“Though back then it was still very new and robots didn’t have much realism behind them, which made them not very believable. In the case of Macross though, we had airplanes that transformed specifically to fight giants. In that sense we had an internal logic that likely made sense to people. I believe it was this that made the mecha acceptable to Westerners who think logically.”
Notice the reasons he gives for why he loved the designs of the following aerospace vehicles, from both history and sci-fi television. He does not pick the 10th or 20th variant of some long running line of aircraft, but rather, radical designs that departed far from those of their contemporaries:
“In terms of other designs I like, the XB-70 Valkyrie is genius. As it is very innovative and has a very clear practical use but at the same time looks unique. I also really like the Thunderbird 2, both the character of its body and the creativity used to make it. It really is fantastic.”
SK uses terms like "genius", "very innovative", "unique", "creativity", and "fantastic".
These are his guiding principles. These are his goal statements. These make up his rubric for whatever projects he works on:
“In terms of the writing process, I approach it as whether I could make something original. Something that hasn’t been seen in a prior animated work, film or novel. In short, a work that hasn’t really been done before. So when I approach the story, the process may not be all that different from writing, directing and designing mecha; as each part is often connected with the other. [...]
“Generally, I like to try and find a new way of telling a story. A new angle.”
Concepts such as "canon", "continuity", or the like don't show up anywhere in there.
“Regarding my process as a director [specifically of 1984's DYRL], no-one really taught me how I should do it so I’ve approached it from the point of view of a designer. [...] Therefore, I decided to also apply my design method to my direction work. [...] Again, using the method of doing something that hasn’t really been done before as well as always seeking for originality are very important.”
Creative, innovative, unique, original. Always.
But never canon, continuity, consistency.
So, not surprisingly, the movie flew right off the rails away from the TV show in terms of many of the details. Because that's how SK rolls. That's how he has always rolled, almost since the beginning.
"In the early design stages for the transformable mecha, the aircraft was looking a bit too toy like. [... T]he toy company at that time thought that [this design wouldn't] really sell and that was yet another barrier to overcome."
"[... S]o I really felt I had to focus on this seriously. [...] That meant we had an all-new design with three modes.
“When the toy company saw the prototype they agreed to the design and series plan on the spot.”
SK focused on an "all-new" design for the Valkyrie, and he credited that for being approved by the tie-in toy company at the time.
"Normally, in battle orientated stories the strength of the respective forces and weapons resolves in a final conflict. That’s pretty standard really, so [instead of that] I thought that I could use the setting of the Zentradi having no culture of their own. Whereas Minmay’s role was a singer and that could act as a form of culture shock to a cultureless enemy.
“Therefore, I eventually had the idea to end the great space war by the power of the song and its resultant culture shock. This solution was original I thought, maybe even a world first. Never seen before in animation, movies or even novels.”
Rather than doing what was "normal" or "pretty standard really", SK wanted to end the great war of SDFM in an "original", "world first", "never seen before" manner: "Yak deculture!"
But alas, that's not what actually happened, in either the show or the film. In both formats, Minmay's song helped to unite the forces of Earth and some of the Zentraedi, but Bodolzaa was killed to end the war. (Network or producer interference? Either way, SK's intent fits the pattern.)
However, having just killed Bodolzaa off with the Macross mothership in the 1983 TV finale, in the name of still doing things somehow differently, in the name of being more interesting than what just came right before, SK changed the ending up in the 1984 movie by having the big bad killed by Hikaru in his VF-1S Super Valkyrie.
And he makes sure to tell us of the many other Anime and video game projects that he has worked on besides the official Macross programs, as well as whatever innovations he was responsible for introducing within them.
The interview goes on to mention other productions that SK feels copied Macross elements, and points out that he has not always received due credit for them. He wants credit as the originator and creator. He is entitled to it.
The issue of who exactly gets to modify the Macross saga itself is another recurring one. SK did not like it when Harmony Gold made changes to the story in its Robotech TV retelling of the Macross space war:
“When it comes to Robotech, it’s difficult to comment. [... T]his was an opportunity for our work to be shown to the world and for that I am thankful. However, because the partial change in the story was made without approval from us, the original authors, it still produces an uncomfortable feeling after all these years.”
Change to the story alone, it would seem, is not good in itself. SK appears to feel that he needs to be the one to author or at least co-sign it.
He also laments that his involvement was never requested for any of the stillborn Macross live-action adaptation projects that have come before.
“This [2015 Warner Bros. project] isn’t the first time a live action movie like this has been conceived either and over the years I’ve heard of multiple attempts, though during this time they’ve never contacted me for any of them.
“As the original creator of Macross I do find that quite disappointing. I should be at least contacted really."
By now it should be clear that SK cries not for changes to the original Macross storyline. He has made a lot of them, himself. Likely what he is really most sensitive to here is whatever changes that might be made without his approval. He wants to be the privileged creative re-inventor. He wants the artistic prerogative to make changes to the material. The bottom line for SK appears not to be faithfulness to any existing standard. It appears to simply be his ego as an artist, both in terms of maintaining creative control and in receiving credit.
I apologize if any of this has come across as overly harsh. This was not meant as a hit piece against Kawamori. It is simply a report on what appears to be prevailing pattern regarding these matters, as revealed by pertinent interviews with the man himself, based on his own words. If I have made any gross errors, I welcome constructive criticism about such, and I will endeavor to correct this essay accordingly.