Bandai Hobby Division

Hirofumi Kishiyama × Mizuki Fukuda

Gundam plastic model kits, or "Gunpla," have great importance when it comes to Gundam-related merchandise. For "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM THE ORIGIN" (hereafter referred to as "THE ORIGIN"), the Gunpla are developed as important items in tandem with the series. In this interview we speak to Hirofumi Kishiyama and Mizuki Fukuda, who are in charge of developing the plastic models for "THE ORIGIN" at the Bandai Hobby Division, about developing the models in conjunction with the CG that's used in the animation.
- First of all, please tell us the positions you each have in the development of plastic models for "THE ORIGIN."
Kishiyama: When I first became involved with the project, I was in charge of product development at Bandai Hobby's Shizuoka factory. Regarding the plastic models for "THE ORIGIN," in order to make a better product, it's necessary to communicate precise information to the design team, so I also attended the "mecha meetings" where the designs and setting of the mecha appearing in the anime are decided. By attending these mecha meetings, I'm able to get useful information pertaining to the creation of the models at an early stage. For example, if we know that the anti-warship rifle is the main weapon used by Char's Zaku II in the prologue of Episode 1, we can incorporate that into the product specs. Presently, I've changed posts and I'm in charge of development design, so Fukuda has taken over product development. Although I don't do the designs myself, I manage the team that does the work of making blueprints for the designs. Now I and Fukuda go to the mecha meetings together, so we can figure out how to put the anime setting to use in our designs.
Fukuda: I joined Bandai and was assigned to the Hobby Division, and the first job where I was involved with product planning was "THE ORIGIN." So basically, I've been set on the road that Mr. Kishiyama built.
- On "THE ORIGIN", when you attended the mecha meetings, were there any requests from the Bandai side with merchandising in mind?
Fukuda: There weren't any major requests, but rather we asked for small adjustments. Mr. Hajime Katoki and other designers who are deeply involved with the plastic models are working on "THE ORIGIN," so they are aware of the various aspects of turning things into products. They've created an environment where it's easy for us to say things like, "If we use such-and-such color here, that would be better for us."
Kishiyama: We've established a relationship where they've asked us to just tell them if something's inconvenient. Without that, you could end up delivering a product that's substandard. They try to do things so that the results suit Bandai's product development, and on the other hand, sometimes the designers and CG staff tell us, "We'd be glad if you could think about this in this way." The film product's level of perfection is important, of course, but we also have the shared objective of selling the associated merchandise at the same time. So it feels like our relationship is that the two sides have become one.
- Compared to other projects, does it seem like you have a deeper relationship on "THE ORIGIN"?
Kishiyama: I attended mecha meetings on other Gundam projects too, but our relationship on "THE ORIGIN" is different.
Fukuda: Within Bandai, the Hobby Division has a special relationship with Sunrise. Normally, you go through a media department and you get permission to create merchandise from the publisher, then you make the product and they check it over. But in this case we have an environment where we're allowed directly on site, and what's more, we're allowed to have a voice.
Kishiyama: Of course, Bandai works closely with Toei as well on some projects, like their "Sentai" series, so there are a few close relationships like that. But this current relationship is a little bit different. Mr. Katoki believes that the machines in the anime should ideally be turned into models, and by firmly sticking with that way of thinking, we're able to develop better products.
- What form did your involvement with "THE ORIGIN" take in the beginning?
Kishiyama: Initially I was dealing with Sunrise's D.I.D. Studio on a separate project, so I was visiting the studio often. Meanwhile, the preparation stage for "THE ORIGIN" was happening at the same time, and they thought that once work started in earnest the anime and the merchandising should run together smoothly, so they approached me at a pretty early stage.
- There must be various advantages to becoming involved so early, right?
Kishiyama: In particular, "THE ORIGIN" depicts the development of the mobile suit from its first stages, before the One Year War started. So the thought was that we should craft things from the very first stages with our eyes fixed on the future. We didn't want to end up saying, "We failed because we didn't think things through back then, so it doesn't match up with the later setting." For example, there are Musais in the prologue of Episode 1, but specifically because they were drawing it with CG, they had to work out its size to figure out how many mobile suits a Musai-class light cruiser and Komusai could hold. Furthermore, if the Gaw attack carrier is going to appear in the future, the Gaw has to be big enough to house the Komusai after it descends to Earth. In other words, we wanted to decide even the size of the Gaw from the beginning. In old hand-drawn animation, you got a sense of the size from the general atmosphere, but D.I.D. Studio is trying to employ CG well in producing anime, so if things aren't precisely determined it can easily lead to inconsistencies. To do those size calculations, they asked if we could provide the 1/400 scale Musai that the Hobby Division had previously released, and since the mecha were being done with CG, they asked us what kinds of markings and things we had on the past Gunpla models. So we shared all our past data. If they had created things that were needed in the anime without any verification, when they moved ahead, they'd think, "We didn't think deeply about this, but we made it anyway." We worked together to keep those kinds of mistakes to a minimum.
- With Gundam works, as more projects follow, the depiction and interpretation of details have been getting more elaborate. So, does your cooperative structure help to give that increasing depiction and interpretation as much of a sense of unity as possible?
Kishiyama: That's right. In Episode 4, you see a little bit of the Gundam's inner frame. For that, we fed them back data on the Master Grade (MG) "THE ORIGIN" Gundam we produced. We've created a relationship where we're able to mutually use "realism" in some form. When making the plastic models, too, Mr. Katoki's designs are turned into CG anime model data, and because we make the kits following on from that, it becomes very efficient. We share the designs, so we spend time working out what mobility and functionality to put in. As a result, I think the High Grade (HG) series from "THE ORIGIN" may gain a reputation for high quality.
- At the stage when it was decided that the mecha scenes in "THE ORIGIN" would be done in CG, did you proceed by sharing data?
Kishiyama: Yes. We started sharing data around the time of "MS IGLOO 2: The Gravity Front," and we built a relationship of trust from that, as a result of which we arrived at how we're doing things on this project. Anime model data and plastic model design data are put together in different ways. But having data we can mutually access makes things very convenient. There's also the advantage that by sharing CG data, we can go almost directly to making solid forms of the detailing and shapes of the mobile suits that appear in the anime. Our data sharing itself is a thing that took years of trial and error, and it's not something we just came to suddenly.
- With the MSD (Mobile Suit Discovery) plastic model line from "THE ORIGIN," since more Gundam works are always being produced, you are able to suggest products based on elements that have a broader interpretation while still being set in the Universal Century.
Kishiyama: Presently, in the "ORIGIN" plastic model series, under the MSD line, we're releasing products that take design work from other series and refashion it so they seem just like they're part of "THE ORIGIN". We're using the opportunity provided by "THE ORIGIN" to seek a way of making the wide range of Gundam works look unified. For example, even if characters from "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM: THE 08th MS TEAM" don't appear, it's fun to make the mobile suits assigned to the ground forces look like the Gundam Ground Type as seen through the lens of "THE ORIGIN".
- While it takes place in the same timeline as "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM," "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM: THE 08th MS TEAM" unfolds in a different location. So you're trying to make it look like the setting details added later to these two series were there from the first, right?
Kishiyama: That's right. Also, in "THE ORIGIN" there are depictions of Federation and Zeon mobile suits carrying the same weapons, and some people might see that as a mistake. But actually, there are things in the "THE ORIGIN" that reveal it's not a mistake, and if you understand those small pieces, then the Gundam works you know from the past could look more interesting thanks to "THE ORIGIN."
Fukuda: With the MSD line, where there is room for imagination, we use the model to go deeper. The model is supposed to be a toy you can build the way you like and modify the way you like in the first place, so if there's room for imagination, I think it widens the range of play.
- Including the MSD line, the HG series from "THE ORIGIN" has a wider range of movement than the previous High Grade Universal Century (HGUC) series. What was the intention behind designing them that way?
Kishiyama: In the original "THE ORIGIN" manga by Mr. (Yoshikazu) Yasuhiko, the mobile suits in the drawings are very alluring, and their smooth movement and attractive posing make you almost forget they're mecha. With the plastic models, we felt we wanted to make that element a reality. When Char's Zaku II from "THE ORIGIN" went on sale, the Gundam and Guncannon had also been renewed as "Revive" versions in the main HGUC series. But for us, the crown of "THE ORIGIN" was being able to revive the Zaku. Even if they're both reborn, the pricing on the HGUC and "THE ORIGIN" HG lines is different. The HGUC line falls in the 1000 yen price range, but Char's Zaku from "THE ORIGIN" is 1700 yen. We didn't try to make it cheap so it would be easier to get. We wanted to create something that is satisfying to the eyes of older customers, and exciting. In the "ORIGIN" anime, its movements and gestures are conspicuous, and we wanted to create something that linked with those images. So we built prototypes in which we put new mechanisms into the joint structures and so forth, to try to expand the articulation. We made the neck double-jointed, and both sides of the chest are articulated, as well as the abdomen, so it can be posed to hold its rifle just the way Mr. Yasuhiko drew it in the anime.
- Parts that couldn't move in previous 1/144 scale kits can move now, so you can tell that the value of the line is different than before.
Kishiyama: We haven't made the MG line smaller. But the concept was that we wanted to actually make something that you could play with after you'd made it, like an action figure with somewhat extravagant parts. At 1/144 scale there's the Real Grade (RG) series, and those kits are packed full of detail, but after building kits from "THE ORIGIN", I hope people will move them around and pose them and be impressed by that.
Fukuda: Also, I think another unique characteristic of the kits from "THE ORIGIN" is that we've standardized the joints. The Zaku I and the Zaku II both have the same joint structure, so it expresses the nuance of being a "successor model with a common frame."
Kishiyama: Our first product was Char's Zaku II, but in the final product, there was a bit of an edge that stuck out on the forearm. The opinion was that it could have had a smoother feel, so since a new mold was made for the MSD Dom Test Type, we tried again to make it closer to the visual. The joint structure is the same, so if you put the Dom Test Type's forearms on Char's Zaku II, you can make it closer to the anime. That kind of modification is easy to do, and as it continues to develop, we can also develop variations by replacing the exterior, so this is a series with many possibilities. With previous Gunpla, the kits were often designed on an individual basis, and there wasn't much compatibility. Even though it was the same Zaku and the same design, the designers were different and the way the parts were divided up was different too. They weren't standardized, so you needed considerable skill to build a Zaku the way you envisioned. By standardizing the joints, both we developers and the customers now have the potential to try lots of different things.
- At present, the HG series is the main line of "THE ORIGIN" plastic models, and only the RX-78-02 Gundam has been released as an MG. How is the line going to expand in the future?
Kishiyama: When we're coming up to a large turning point, we may release "THE ORIGIN" MG items, but for now the plan is for HG to be the core, including the MSD line. I think the important thing now is to release the HGs we're developing and broaden the line's world view.
- Finally, do you have a message for fans who are looking forward to plastic models from "THE ORIGIN"?
Fukuda: With the release of Episode 4, the Guncannon First Type will be released, so if you put that together with the Gundam Local Type and Guntank Early Type, you'll have the full set and you can line them up for a fake Operation V. I hope people will enjoy the history of the Federation Forces' mobile suit development in that way.
Kishiyama: Like the rest of the series, the Guncannon First Type will have specifications suitable for "THE ORIGIN", so I hope people will look forward to imagining its further development.
Fukuda: On the Zeon side, we'll also release Ramba Ral's MS-04 Bugu. Three years after the start, we've finally completed the Zeon forces' early development history and you can line them right up, so I hope people enjoy that.

Next time in our Relay Interview series, we talk to Lalah Sune actress Saori Hayami.