The ’80s Mechanical Designer Who Left Early: Akira Kagami

Spend some time diving into the production history of ‘80s anime and you’ll soon find how deep the connections run between artists, studios, ideas, and even fans. I don’t think that was an occurrence unique to the era, but the slower communication speed and smaller scope of the industry during that time make it a bit more pronounced in retrospect.

I mention this because I’d like to talk about Akira Kagami, a mechanical designer and manga artist who tragically passed away in 1984 at the age of 26. While you may not recognize his name, you will recognize some of the projects he worked on and the artists he associated with. Dying at such a young age meant he had only begun to make a name for himself—much of his manga was published posthumously and the extent of his contributions to certain anime projects isn’t certain—but looking into his career paints a picture of a talented artist who passed away far too soon.

Kagami’s story is an interesting one, not just because of his accomplishment or his tragic passing, but because of the mystery that surrounds his involvement in some shows. For years, it was rumored that the iconic FAST Packs of the VF-1 Valkyrie from Macross were his creation. In some cases, his work on shows has only been corroborated by his own doujinshi or the testimony of a former assistant. Certain things are known—legendary director Yoshiyuki Tomino wrote effusively about his talents, for example—and that makes his story all the more fascinating. What we’re certain of is that he was a young designer working at the forefront of a burgeoning industry.


In 1981 Kagami joined Shotaro Ishimori’s Ishimori Productions and worked on various book and magazine projects. He soon began to make connections with folks in the industry like mechanical designer Yutaka Izubuchi [Patlabor, Char’s Counterattack], manga artist Masaki Yuuki [Patlabor, Birdy the Mighty], and character designer Haruhiko Mikimoto [Macross, Gunbuster]. During the gunpla boom, he worked on a swath of mecha anime, but exact details as to what he did during this part of his career remain murky.

His doujinshi Nocturne claimed he helped Izubuchi with the design of a diminutive bi-pedal mecha in Xabungle dubbed the “Hog.” According to one of his manga assistants, he designed some throwaway mecha seen in the first episode of L-Gaim. He reportedly worked on some of the designs for Do You Remember Love?, including items like the tableware seen in the Protoculture city of Altira.

For a long time, there was a rumor among diehard Macross fans that he either designed outright or helped with the design of the VF-1’s FAST Packs as seen in the original TV series. A Twitter thread from 2018 instead suggests this was a misunderstanding stemming from a customized VF-1 model kit that appeared in an issue of the kid’s magazine Terebikun… but you get the idea. His talents were such that an idea like his designing an iconic mechanical design, hitherto uncredited, seemed within the realm of reason.

Folks have drawn parallels between some of his mechanical design work and contemporaneous cutting-edge mechanical designs from better-known designers. The Studio Nue development of reverse-knee joints and Masamune Shirow’s quad-arm control system in his Appleseed Landmates are two stand-out comparisons.1 I mention these not to suggest that Kagami was “first,” but instead to highlight the fact that for a period in the early ‘80s, he was at the forefront of mecha design.

His Wikipedia page has a long list of accomplishments and accolades from well-known anime creatives, with the caveat that much seems unconfirmed or dubiously sourced. In researching this article, I came across an entire web page devoted to researching Kagami’s contributions to Macross, Xabungle, and L-Gaim, and it presents an immense amount of corroborating and speculative information for those looking to dive into his work. Whether or not every bullet point can be confirmed is largely irrelevant at this point; what remains is the notion of a talented artist who could have done even more impressive things had he remained with us a bit longer.

In the book Akira Kagami Collection 2 (published posthumously in 1986), Yoshiyuki Tomino wrote of being taken by the young Kagami’s artistic style during the pre-production of Vifam but also mentioned that at the time Kagami seemed torn over whether or not to pursue a career in animation design or move into manga.

Notably omitted from most discussions of Kagami’s work in mecha anime was his work on promotional material for the ill-fated transforming robot series Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross. Along with some full-color illustration work of the series’ characters, Kagami also penned a manga where the show’s three heroines visit the office of the series’ character designer, Tomonori Kogawa. Southern Cross was originally envisioned as a sci-fi comedy series by lolicon artist Aki Uchiyama but went through numerous revisions before finally entering production. Whether or not there was some connection between Uchiyama and Kagami, I have no idea. But it is worth mentioning that some of Kagami’s manga work was firmly within the lolicon zeigeist of the 1980s.


With the encouragement of Shotaro Ishimori, Kagami began focusing on manga professionally sometime in 1983. His debut was in Coper 21, a science magazine for young boys named for both the astronomer Copernicus and the 21st century. Using a handful of pen names he was also active in the the then-developing lolicon movement, with work appearing in the magazine Manga Burikko.2

Macross fans of a certain age may also remember his comic “Tokimeki Accident,” which included in the Korotan Bunko #100 Macross Guide Book. It seems that many of his comics, like the Southern Cross comic I mentioned earlier, were commissioned for magazines or art books and as such, are sort of ephemeral. When a manga is collected into easily researchable tankoubon volumes, it’s easy to get a clear indication of an author’s work. When short comics disappear into the ether of an era crowded with anime magazines and books, an oeuvre like Kagami’s can seemingly disappear.

Kagami’s manga work, much of it in the lolicon space, seems at odds with his mechanical design bona fides and experience working on anime. That dichotomy was not as unusual as you might expect and speaks to an era when artists could straddle very different types of work.


On August 9, 1984, a friend broke down the door of Akira Kagami’s apartment to find him dead. The cause of death was never released.

Kagami’s short professional career sheds light on a vibrant, exciting, and chaotic period in the anime and manga industry. The chaos of a TV production where not everyone’s contributions were formally documented. The duality of artists who split their time between robot shows for young adults and questionable comics that featured young adults. It was a period where a ridiculous amount of talented people found a place in an expanding industry, carrying with it the caveat that not every talented artist found the same success.

I’m not looking to romanticize the dead and I’m far from an expert on Kagami’s work, but it’s hard not to feel a bit of sadness when looking at what Kagami created. His art was rough around the edges in the most charming type of early doujinshi sort of way. His mechanical designs were evocative and detailed, so much so that I’d compare them to Studio Nue. What remains of his artwork largely comes from a brief, three-year window. Who knows what would have emerged if he was still with us?

Special thanks to Renzo Adler.



  1. An example of Kagami’s own quad-arm power design can be seen here.
  2. The legacy of lolicon in the 1980s is rarely discussed in English, but despite the reputation, much of the early stuff wasn’t particularly as salacious as you’d expect… at least by today’s standards. Kagami’s Wikipedia entry even states, “However, under neither name did he publish works that would be considered adult manga today.”