Gunpla Boom Ephemera: Kunio Okawara’s Gouf Lady

This translation originally appeared on the Zimmerit Patreon.

As part of my perpetually-in-progress fanzine/book/mook about the history of garage kits, I’ve been having a lot of period interviews translated for reference. One of the more unusual interviews, which I’ve shared below, was with Gundam mechanical designer Kunio Okawara. In the early ‘80s, following the success of the original Mobile Suit Gundam, Okawara was keeping busy doing designs for other Sunrise mecha shows like Fang of the Sun Dougram and Armored Trooper VOTOMS, and, apparently, sculpting his own garage kits.

In lieu of a proper animated sequel and no doubt buoyed by the runaway success of the Gundam model kits, Mobile Suit Variation was a model kit spin-off with new designs and variations on older mobile suits that incorporated a more militaristic, olive-drab feel representative of AFV modeling1 trends. Supporting these kits, Sunrise and Bandai published a series of “Mobile Suit Variation Hand Books,” small pamphlets full of model kit builds, background information, and illustrations.2 The back of each issue had a selection of military-style unit emblems and nose art, further cementing the real-world inspiration for the series.

Kunio Okawara in the Mobile Suit Variation Hand Book Vol. 2.

The second issue of the Mobile Suit Variation Hand Book in particular included two illustrations in the style of World War II bomber nose art, featuring pin-up style models inspired by the iconic Zaku and Gouf mobile suit designs. These illustrations by Takayuki Masuo apparently so impressed Okawara that he set out to sculpt his own figure based on the latter design, arguably kicking off the “MS Girl” phenomenon that persisted for decades.

Kunio Okawara’s Gouf Lady
Translated by Maude Duke

MJ: Okawara-san, I heard that you’ve made that Gouf personal emblem into a figure…

Okawara: I was impressed by Takayuki Masuo’s back cover illustration for MSV Handbook ② and got to work on a wood carving right away.

MJ: Standing at 33cm tall, it’s a very large figure. How many days did it take you to make?

Okawara: About two days. First I sculpted it out of balsa wood. I made an impression in silicone rubber and then used polyurethane resin to make a cast. Then I did some minor alterations on the detailed bits. Masuda-san, a friend of mine who runs a model shop called Domu [童夢], together with Honda-san from Lark, worked on reproducing it. It gives off kind of a fantasy vibe, doesn’t it? With a figure like this, everyone can add their own personal touches, so it’s sure to be a lot of fun. For my next work, I was thinking of designing my own three-heads-tall super-deformed character.

MJ: I can’t wait.

Okawara’s hand-sculpted Gouf lady from Mobile Suit Variation Hand Book Vol. 2.

A few notes on this translation and the impact of this kit (which was later released under the copyright-avoiding name “Space Queen Coral”):

  • Hobby Shop Lark was a hobby shop with two locations in Seiyu department stores, one in Ofuna and the second in Kichijoji. After the latter shop got into the business of casting its own kits (and finding huge success with kits based on Five Star Stories), the casting department spun off and became Wave Co. Ltd., who are still in business today producing plastic model kits.
  • The “Armored Lady” trend persisted in garage kit circles for a few years in the mid-’80s, with designs based on L-Gaim, Vifam, and other ’80s mecha anime sold at events. Bandai even got into the game with their own short-lived series of plastic kits in the same style released under the “Armored Lady” brand.
  • Domu and Lark released a follow-up kit called “Space Eve Galaxina,” essentially a Zaku lady.
  • I’ve had a hard time turning up much information about Domu and assumed they’d perhaps gone out of business in the early ’80s as they’re not listed in General Products’ Garage Kit Guide from 1985. Assuming this is the same shop, however, they still might be around?

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  1. “Armored Fighting Vehicle” or “AFV” was used to describe the more traditional military modeling sphere; think Tamiya tanks and such.
  2. The pamphlet-shaped modeling handbooks were a popular promotional tool during the gunpla boom, with model kit manufacturers creating them to support their model kit series with background information, guides, and photos.