The Ultimate Pre-Built Gundam Product and the Ultimate Gundam Plastic Model
The challenge of creating something that exceeds expectations.
In order to create something that exceeds expectations, it is essential to be passionate, to continue challenging yourself, and to be willing to learn from different disciplines.
"TAKUMI(Master) × TAKUMI(Master) Cross Talk" is a project in which two masters of different industries and professions have conversations with each other to gain new discoveries, ideas, and insights.
For this talk, BANDAI SPIRITS Collectors Toy Department's Tsutomu Noguchi, who is in charge of the "ultimate" pre-built Gundam product, METAL STRUCTURE KAITAI-SHOU-KI, was joined by the Hobby Products Department's Naoki Saida, who is in charge of the "ultimate" GUNPLA model, the PERFECT GRADE UNLEASHED 1/60 RX-78-2 GUNDAM, which is a culmination of forty years of GUNPLA. What are the two masters' thoughts on manufacturing, and what are their philosophies?
Collectors Toy Department
BANDAI SPIRITS CO., LTD.
Tsutomu Noguchi joined Bandai in 2004 after working in planning and development at a housing manufacturer.After working in the Hobby Products Department and (the Department then known as) the Boys Toy Department, he joined the Collectors Toy Department in 2015. As the manager of the planning team, he oversees the team's work and has launched such series as THE ROBOT SPIRITS ver. A.N.I.M.E., METAL STRUCTURE KAITAI-SHOU-KI, and TAMASHII STUDIO PREMIUM.
Hobby Products Department
BANDAI SPIRITS CO., LTD.
Naoki Saida joined the company in 2013. After being involved in market research at (the office then known as) the Toy Strategy Office, he worked in (the department then known as) the Girls Toy Department and then in the Hobby Products Department, where he was in charge of new hobby products. When he was exposed to plastic models, he wanted to learn about manufacturing and was assigned to the Bandai Hobby Center. He has worked on "30MM" and other products, and is currently developing GUNPLA for the Gundam team.
* The content, titles, product prices, etc. in this article are as of the time of the interview.
A symmetrical approach to creation
I originally worked in planning and development at a housing manufacturer before I joined BANDAI. People often tell me that this is an unusual career change. After working in the Hobby Products Department and (the department then known as) the Boys Toy Department, I was transferred to the current Collectors Toy Department, where I am currently working as the manager of the planning team, where I coordinate the robot figure team while planning and developing the KAITAI-SHOU-KI and TAMASHII STUDIO PREMIUM series.
I joined the company in 2014 as a new graduate, and after undergoing training in (the office then known as) the Toy Strategy Office, I joined (the department then known as) the Girls Toy Department, then moved to the Hobby Products Department. But I had never purchased or even touched a plastic model before. I was barely even familiar with Char's Zaku, so working in the Hobby Products Department was a completely new experience for me. That's why I decided that I wanted to learn about manufacturing from scratch at the Bandai Hobby Center, where I volunteered to work. It is now my third year working with the Gundam Team.
There are two main product categories that I have been in charge of planning at the Collectors Toy Department, the first being THE ROBOT SPIRITS ver. A.N.I.M.E. It combines dynamic anime proportions with a poseable design that allows you to recreate impactful action scenes from the movies. The series is a result of our desire to create a standard line of products that would allow us to sell models of even minor characters that would normally be difficult to commercialize by giving them playful connections with the product development lineup.
The second is a product that aims to be an ultimate product that opens up a new world that is different from the world of conventional products. It is a high-priced product that is detailed, features an overwhelming amount of information, and is made with attention to each and every aspect of the way it's manufactured.
It took about five years of conceptualization and product development before METAL STRUCTURE KAITAI-SHOU-KI RX-93 v Gundam was launched at the end of 2019.
The name KAITAI SHOU-KI was inspired by Kaitai Shinsho, a book about human anatomy. I often reach a point in my hobbies where I come up with my own original creations, but the first step is to take things apart and understand their structure. This is also true for this product, which was extracted from the process of disassembly itself. We adopted the catchphrase "building in the name of disassembly" as the concept for the creation of this product. In addition to its impactful size and weight, the figure is made up of about 2,000 parts. Our goal was to create a product that is more than just a toy, with precision and a variety of materials and gimmicks.
METAL STRUCTURE KAITAI-SHOU-KI RX-93 v Gundam was met with great interest and response. Our announcement of the METAL STRUCTURE KAITAI-SHOU-KI MSN-04 SAZABI at TAMASHII NATION 2020 held in November 2020 also received a favorable response.
METAL STRUCTURE KAITAI-SHOU-KI RX-93 v Gundam
102,300 yen (including 10% tax)
Launched December 2019
A page from the catalog, designed to look like the book Kaitai Shinsho.
Mr. Noguchi, you have a great deal of experience and knowledge, including what you gained working in the Hobby Products Department. On the other hand, as someone who is not familiar with figures or plastic models, GUNPLA was foreign to me with its rich lineup and increasing complexity, if I'm being honest. In 2018, I was put in charge of HG LEO because I thought that there might be many customers who feel the same way, and because I was focused on creating entry-level models to expand the GUNPLA fan base.
HG LEO was a part of the GUNPLA EVOLUTION PROJECT, a project that aims to develop GUNPLA according to different themes, and one of the themes was "easy assembly." That was when I took advantage of my position as a casual hobbyist and created a model that even beginners could build easily and without stress, and I was able to get customers to once again feel the joy of assembling GUNPLA.
After that, I was in charge of BANDAI SPIRITS' first original IP plastic model series, 30 MINUTES MISSIONS (30MM), which was developed based on the theme of "easy assembly" that attracted customers to HG LEO. It was such a hit that it became a boom in the plastic model community, and I was happy to hear many people say that 30MM became their entry point to the world of plastic models.
After the launch of 30MM, I continued to work on various grades of GUNPLA and wondered if I could introduce to more customers the plastic model technology that the senior members of the Hobby Products Department had amassed over the years.
Entry Grade 1/144 RX-78-2 GUNDAM" (EG), which I was in charge of this year, was created as an entry-level plastic model product to expand the range of GUNPLA. For EG, instead of piling on Bandai Hobby Center's many advancements as mentioned earlier, we optimized them by subtracting elements, and a plastic model with a simple parts configuration that anyone can intuitively assemble was born. We call it the aesthetics of subtraction.
Based on this experience, we planned the PERFECT GRADE UNLEASHED 1/60 RX-78-2 GUNDAM, released in 2020, as the culmination of forty years of GUNPLA, with the desire to create something that would allow many people to experience the fun of assembling through GUNPLA. By "unleashing" the GUNPLA from its constraints, which had been used as formats in the past, I was able to work with the world of GUNPLA from scratch.
The assembling process has been ingenious in previous GUNPLA models, but as the number of parts increases, the number of runners also increases, and the time and effort required to find the desired parts may have become something of an obstacle. With this product, however, there are clear guideposts that make it easy to understand even for beginners and casual hobbyists, and the parts are placed on runners based on the flow of assembly, so that the number of runners that have to be handled decreases rapidly during the assembly process, which increases motivation as well as assembly speed as you approach completion.
Furthermore, we have established five phases until the completion of assembly, so that people can feel a sense of accomplishment in each phase, and at the end of each phase, they can play with the model for a bit or upload their progress to social media to share their process with others.
PERFECT GRADE UNLEASHED 1/60 RX-78-2 GUNDAM is assembled in phases. This new assembly style feels like simulation of a real mobile suit manufacturing experience.
I feel an overwhelming attention to detail is put into your products.
Where does this attention to detail come from?
Since I was a child, I enjoyed drawing pictures and making things, and I always wanted to create things that are different from what others were creating and surprise people with my expression. I am still the same way, and I still create things as a hobby in addition to the things I create for work. I also designed part of the exterior of my car myself, and painted the whole thing based on a SAZABI-style color formulation. I am also using my previous work experience to design my own house to suit my hobbies.
I have many hobbies other than manufacturing, such as radio-controlled cars, aquariums, and fishing, and these hobbies often gives me clues that I can use in my work.
Furthermore, I always keep in mind that I want to surprise our customers, not only when they buy the product and enjoy it, but also even when the product is released.
While making the most of the technical capabilities of BANDAI SPIRITS and Bandai Hobby Center, I personally aim to familiarize customers with the hobby by providing an introduction that is translated in a way that is easy for them to understand.
Our technological advancements are something that we can continue to build on, but they are meaningless if they are not shared. For example, even though insert molding is a craft that Bandai Hobby Center is proud of, there are aspects of it that cannot be understood by beginners to the plastic model hobby if we attempt to explain it as is. I think my role is to think about why these techniques are necessary and why they would be beneficial to incorporate into plastic models, and to translate complex concepts into something that anyone can understand, thereby providing our customers a sense of surprise and inspiration.
Recently, there has been remarkable development in 3D and virtual fields, but the pleasure of actually seeing, touching, and creating things is irreplaceable. I see my duty as being the important task of figuring out how to expand our range and take us to the future.
Having a friendly rival department helps both sides grow and grow to new heights
There's a real difference in the way you approach customers in terms of whether you want them to enjoy the process of making the product or whether you want to give them a pre-built product.
Some of the best things about plastic models is the process of understanding their structure by assembling them yourself, the added fun of customization when painting them, for example, and the affinity that develops after completion.
On the other hand, when it comes to pre-built products, most people will enjoy playing with the movable parts and the effects to put the models in poses and move them based on the visuals and anime images in their minds. Considering the size of the KAITAI-SHOU-KI models, they are more suited to being left in a cool standing posture rather than in poses, and by creating scenes, for example, they can be played with in a way that's only possible with pre-built products. Also, since the products are expensive, we are developing optional parts and other products that will encourage people to play with them for a long time. In that sense, I think they are different from other figures.
I am confident that plastic models are getting closer and closer to the pre-built figures, and yet, right next to the plastic models, there are high quality, pre-colored pre-built products for sale. So what is the value of plastic models? This is why I always buy the high quality products made by the Collectors Toy Department when they come out, and sometimes I even dismantle them once to see how they are structured for reference.
There are two departments within the company, the Collectors Toy Department and the Hobby Products Department, and I believe that we have been able to produce products at this level because each department has been able to grow and help each other improve.
When KAITAI-SHOU-KI was launched, I was blown away, and I was reminded of the quality of pre-built products. It motivated the Hobby Products Department and myself to think about how we should create a new sense of value as a department, how we should approach plastic models, and what kind of challenges we could take on.
We want to continue to deliver impressive surprises.
Our main priority is to continue to deliver impressive surprises to our customers. Recently, however, I have been thinking about more abstract things, such as digital and numerical ideas, rather than just physical products. When I draw out these concepts in my mind and think about them, I think about how these are a part of manufacturing as well, and the scope of my interests expand. I'm excited that there are still all kinds of possibilities in manufacturing, and I want to explore areas that allow me to take on new challenges.
Once again, I'm a strong believer in spreading the value of plastic models to the world.
I'm confident that these are products that can be enjoyed every day by enthusiasts who have been enjoying plastic models for a long time, customers who are about to pick up their first plastic model, and hobbyists all over the world. And if the Collectors Toy Department and the Hobby Products Department can work together in a friendly rivalry to further expand our scope, I believe that the market will become even more exciting.