Getting the mix right - manga style

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Nargess Shahmanesh-Banks finds Nissan turning to the art of Japan's comic-book heroes to give the Mixim concept an edge

Yoo Eunsun is very hip and very young. She's Korean, lives in Japan and speaks perfect English. It was her interior-design concept that won Nissan's in-house Mixim competition. And it is her (or, rather, her generation's) fingerprints that are smeared all over the car.

Nissan's latest concept car to come from the Tokyo-based exploratory design studio was officially unveiled at this week's Frankfurt Motor Show. It was created by a design team with an average age of just 25.

"I am influenced by Japanese animation, like the film Ghost in the Shell," says Eunsun, her eyes widening as I explain that I have no idea what she is referring to. She thinks I'm joking as she continues to explain that the car is conceptually rooted in computer games, and visually influenced by manga comics, anime (Japanese animation) and Second Life.

Second Life? The strange world where you create an alter ego, and live an alternative existence? "I haven't joined yet, but everyone in Japan is part of it," she enthuses. It seems Second Life has even entered the world of comic books.

The Mixim is a car aimed at the next generation of drivers. Through extensive research, speaking with and observing teenagers in Europe, the United States, Japan and even China, Nissan has come to the conclusion that the driving generation to come has no interest in engine size, driving dynamics or speed, but is looking for an alternative to the conventional notion of the car. Most crucially, they are a truly global lot, with a common vocabulary.

François Bancon, general manager at the advanced studio, and the brains behind the Mixim concept, explains that the car has all the right ingredients to excite the next generation of drivers.

"The young of today have a different sense of reality," he says. "They are no longer so interested in products, but in experiences. They interface with the world through the computer," he says. "This is a digital-era car."

The Mixim also brings to the table new principles of how to design environmentally friendly cars. Powered by a motor/generator using Nissan's new compact lithium-ion batteries, the car has 4x4 capabilities, thanks to one motor driving the front axle and another the rear.

The car is compact (3.7m long, 1.8m wide and 1.4m high), light at 950kg, will run for 155 miles (250km) before needing to be recharged, and can accelerate up to a respectable 112mph (180km/h).

But more importantly, since this is purely a conceptual exercise, the Mixim challenges the conventional anti-car electric vehicle (EV) design language (think the awkwardly designed G-Wiz). Instead, the coupé-type car has been aggressively designed, even sporting suicide doors.

"We didn't want to produce another cuddly EV, but a concept with genuine character that just happens to be battery-powered," says Masato Inoue, the chief designer.

He explains that elements such as the head and tail lamps are derived purely from Nissan's design language, but that the "non-defined wavy surfaces are a metaphor for free thinking and are the antithe-sis of conventional machine appearance."

The Mixim wants to make a statement against machines. The lights have been designed not to look mechanical. Even the name is a derivative of the initial concept codename, "remix against the machine".

It is with the interior, however, that the designers seem to have had all the fun. Step inside the car and all appears blatantly futuristic.

Eunsun explains that today's youth see no boundaries between the virtual and the real worlds. In the Mixim, the centre-positioned driver seat is inspired by Formula 1 and computer games, as is the steering wheel and the control panels. Eunsun says it is easier to control the car this way. "With the driver being in the centre, he is in command of the car," she says. "You also feel like you're in your own world."

Eight hidden cameras protect the Mixim and allow the driver and passenger to see the world around them. There is a horizontal split screen with a virtual display of the road ahead that sits directly underneath the windscreen the play on reality.

"The inspiration for Mixim's design development was '99 per cent evil, 1 per cent cute'. This mini-monster theme was developed from a spectrum of Japanese computer-game animations," says Inoue.

Bancon explains that this kind of vocabulary has no national barriers any more. "Anime, video games, manga, all of this somehow creates a kind of generational background which is shared all over the world.

"It may have originated from Japan, but it's now part of, say, any French kid's culture. They probably don't even know where it came from originally. It's now a global vocabulary," he says.

He later explains that Ghost in the Shell was the first anime to be made with a global market in mind using an international team. In fact, this is the direction Nissan is moving in. "We are going to make concepts with a global vision," he says.

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