Japanese car designers turn to anime for new design ideas

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Some of Japan’s biggest automakers, renowned for their quality performance wrapped in an often bland design, look to the country’s pop culture to give them a ‘J factor’ and help them stand out in a world of more cars. in addition to resembling.

The designers of Nissan Motor’s GT-R supercar, for example, borrowed from the famous sci-fi anime franchise “Gundam” to give the $ 100,000 pug-nosed model a mechanical, robot-like appearance. with a square rear and round taillights.

“We wanted to set ourselves apart from Porsches, Ferraris and other supercars, which are designed to mimic the streamlined beauty of a hunting animal, such as a jaguar.”

“Take a look at the window and the roof line of the car. It does not flow easily from front to back, it is bent. We wanted to express the awkward yet cool and powerful form of the Japanese anime robot, ”global design chief Shiro Nakamura told Reuters.

“We wanted to set ourselves apart from Porsches, Ferraris and other supercars, which are designed to mimic the streamlined beauty of a hunting animal, such as a jaguar.”

Nakamura, who also designed for General Motors and Isuzu Motors, wants the Japanese cultural aesthetic to help Nissan cars stand out from the crowd, noting that “around the world, cars from mainstream brands have started to look alike. more and more”.

“We insist on Japan because we are a Japanese brand,” he added. “Unless you derive the design and style from your own cultural DNA, there is no chance of continuity and you lack confidence.

Nissan and others hope such efforts can help them differentiate themselves in a market where so many cars today are hard to tell.

“The efficiency of mass production, economies of scale, brand globalization, a risk-averse corporate culture, the ergonomics of a car, and the constraints of infrastructure and regulations all play into this phenomenon, ”said Richard Kong, managing partner at Montaag, a California-based design company. company, who was previously Ford’s chief designer for Lincoln’s brand and also worked for BMW’s design subsidiary.

Pikachu to Monkey D Luffy

Others also look for this J factor.

At Toyota Motor, the grille and slanted LED headlights of the latest iteration of the Prius C Hybrid would make the sedan look a bit like Pikachu, the tough but cuddly hero from “Pokemon,” another popular longtime Japanese anime. . series.

However, Tokuo Fukuichi, head of Toyota’s global design, said the resemblance was not necessarily intended and had more to do with engineers’ efforts to improve the car’s aerodynamics.

For Toyota, and in particular its premium brand Lexus, the J factor is more in the functionality of the car than in its styling, Fukuichi said: “the way the doors open and close and how the buttons, switches and steering wheel feel when you touch them. “

“Before the appearance of the car, we try to put the importance of visibility to reduce blind spots, for example. We emphasize craftsmanship. It’s our DNA and our J factor,” he said. he said, referring to a national culture where a high speed train stops on the platform just 10cm from where it should, and the driver apologizes if the train is 30 seconds late.

At Nissan, Nakamura experimented with a modern take on Japanese pop culture’s affinity for cuteness.

He says he was told that the Nissan Juke, a mini-SUV, does not look like Monkey D. Luffy, a main pirate character with a big smile in the Japanese anime “One Piece”. He says he has no problem with it, although any resemblance was unintentional.

“This… cuteness is also the DNA of Japanese pop culture (that) we try to convey in some of our cars while keeping them modern,” Nakamura said, also referring to the microvan Cube, which is square and chunky. but has a modern look and asymmetric wraparound rear window.

“Symmetry is a Western concept,” he said. “The Japanese are more comfortable with the imbalance.”

REUTERS
Report by Norihiko Shirouzu and Naomi Tajitsu
Edited by Ian Geoghegan)


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