Bandai model developer interview, 2020

The theme for Volume 8 of the Star Blazers/Yamato Premium Fan Club magazine (August 2020) was fightercraft. In addition to an interview with Mecha Designer Junichiro Tamamori there was a new conversation with Hirofumi Kishiyama, Yamato’s product developer at Bandai. True to theme, the interview focused on fightercraft and gave us some more insight into the process of creating the products Yamato fans want (including himself).

What is the appeal of the fighter models that the product development pro talks about?

Bandai Spirits Hobby Division, Hirofumi Kishiyama interview

Hirofumi Kishiyama of the Bandai Spirits Hobby Division has been involved in the development of many model kits such as Gunpla and of course the Yamato series. Due to his depth of love and knowledge for Yamato, even the anime production staff asks him for advice. We talked about the appeal of Yamato plamodels as seen from the standpoint of product development and heard a lot of stories about fighter models in particular.

Translation glossary:
Plamo/Plamodel = plastic models (formerly defined as “play models,” to be built and played with like toys)
Display model = model kits designed to be built and displayed rather than played with
Gunpla = Gundam plastic models
Character model = a model kit based on a fictional subject (including mecha)
Mecha Colle = Mecha Collection (the famous series of Yamato mini kits from the late 70s and early 80s)

Yamato‘s big impact on the world of character models

Interviewer: When did you first encounter a Yamato plamodel?

Kishiyama: I first saw Space Battleship Yamato when I was five years old. I think it was the same for the plamodel. I don’t remember who bought it for me. I built the Yamato that had wheels and a windup motor in the bottom.

Interviewer: The character models at that time had windup motors.

Kishiyama: The same was true for robots like Mazinger Z. It was common sense in those days for them to be powered and to move. I don’t know if it was the same with other children, but when I was five years old I already didn’t like that. (Laughs) I begged my older brother to remove the wheels and build the third bridge.

Interviewer: Was it the strong influence of Yamato that made you join Bandai?

Kishiyama: The first trigger was Gundam, sorry. (Smiles) However, after joining the company I got the opportunity to listen to stories from my seniors, and I knew all over again the great achievements of Yamato in the world of character models. For example, one of the factors of Gunpla’s success was the unified scale of 1/144. Yamato was the first to adopt that concept. Initially, the product size was decided in advance. Since the scale was calculated according to the original work, and it was around 1/567, so I think there is no doubt that it laid the groundwork for character model “citizenship.” Furthermore, it can be said that without Yamato our hobby division might not exist.

Interviewer: The Bandai models of those days were the origin of the Hobby Division, weren’t they?

The Space Battleship Yamato Image Model that saved Bandai.
Since it was reissued in 2005, many modelers must have
become acquainted with its unique form again.

Kishiyama: The way I heard it from my seniors, Bandai had missed the super car boom and sales dropped substantially. At one point, there was even talk of closing the company. At that time (1977), the staff pooled their wisdom and planned the Space Battleship Yamato Deform Display Model, also called the Image Model.

Interviewer: It was a bold kit that was designed to match the poster of the movie version. The box picture was also excellent and became a big hit.

Kishiyama: With that hit as a start, products such as the Cosmo Zero and Black Tiger that had windup motors were also modified into display models that abolished the windup feature, and the business recovered by selling them as a product group. So, like the seniors of those days, I think we have to feel a certain indebtedness to Yamato.

Interviewer: The kits released at that time could be set up with a panel or stand for viewing. It was the forerunner of the display model.

Kishiyama: That’s right. Without that situation, we might not even have the current idea of a character model, let alone the existence of our company.

What is the “certain secret” hidden in the Mecha Colle fightercraft series?

Interviewer: You’ve been involved in the anime series from the perspective of plamodel development, and I’ve heard that you sometimes participate in production meetings. What kind of views do you exchange with the anime staff?

Kishiyama: As you my expect, our most common exchanges are about design. I often get asked, “How big should it be in the concept settings so a model kit is easier to make?” I sometimes bring prototypes to the meetings to explain it.

Interviewer: Do you have any memorable moments from those exchanges?

Kishiyama: For 2199, I put a prototype of the Domelaze III on my desk and arranged the three-deck carriers around it in a presentation. “I’m going to exhibit it like this at hobby shows. This will definitely make everyone want a Domelaze III.” When I explained this to Director Yutaka Izubuchi, he started taking pictures of the prototype. (Laughs) He was like, “Let’s do a shot of the Domelaze III from this angle!” and the staff got excited.

(See display photos of the October 2013 All Japan Model and Hobby Show here.)

Interviewer: The presence of the three-dimensional object further expands the image.

Kishiyama: I was very happy that I could cooperate with the production of the work as a staff member on the plamodel side. I got the feeling that we were creating the new series together.

Interviewer: The theme of this magazine is the fighters of the Yamato series. Among the products you were in charge of, are there any fighters you’re particularly fond of?

The 1/72 Cosmo Zero that has an especially strong presence in
fighter models (the Alpha 2 Yamamoto version is shown here).
The storage form can be reproduced by swapping out parts.
It is a famous kit that has gained enthusiastic support from
Yamato modelers due to its commitment to precision.

Kishiyama: It has to be the 1/72 Cosmo Zero from 2199. I worked hard to be able to reproduce the storage form in the hangar. For detail, everything we could glean from the finely drawn line art was engraved into the kit.

Interviewer: I’m glad that even a real figure of the pilot was reproduced.

Kishiyama: For the 1/72 fighter series, I think it’s important that “The pilot and their favorite machine are a set.” Of course, the pilot is pretty small, but I wanted to make a model that the user could recognize and say, “This is that guy!”

Interviewer: Is that kind of attention to detail common to other fighter plamo?

Kishiyama: There’s a hidden commitment in the Mecha Colle fighters. For example, although there is no notation on the 2199 version of the Cosmo Zero, its scale is 1/157. You may be thinking, “why that?” but it’s actually the same length as the Cosmo Zero of the old Mecha Colle. In terms of what that means, I would like you to put the new and old Cosmo Zeros side by side. When you compare them, I hope you can say, “Even though they’re the same size, you can achieve such crisp detail” and feel the progress of current plamodel technology. By the way, the Cosmo Falcon has a similar scale. The Garmillas Warship Set also unifies the scale of Garmillas fighters such as the Debakke and Snuka.

Interviewer: By the way, is there a fighter up to 2202 that you want to make into a kit?

Kishiyama: Don’t you already know? (Laughs) It’s a 1/72 Cosmo Tiger II. Unfortunately, there are currently no plans for it, but if the conditions are met I definitely want to add it to the series. Since it appears as a mainstay even after Farewell to Yamato, I think there will be opportunities for it to play an active role in the new series in the future. Therefore, I think there will be an opportunity to make a plan.

The new version of the Cosmo Tiger II, which is currently only
available in Mecha Colle scale. In addition to Mr. Kishiyama,
Yamato modelers are also eager for a 1/72 version.

It’s even OK to cannibalize it!? What is the appeal of Yamato plamo?

Interviewer: How hard is it to commercialize a Yamato fighter compared to a ship?

Kishiyama: The most significant thing about making a model kit for a Yamato fighter is the cross-sectional shape of the wing. The leading edge should be especially thin and sharp, and in the case of our company, we have to ensure safety.

Interviewer: Bandai is particularly concerned about safety, isn’t it?

Kishiyama: As a model department, our philosophy is to convey to children through our products the joy of “moving your hands to assemble things.” It’s big talk, but we want people to know the joy of manufacturing with plastic models as a trigger. We want people to grow up to support Japan, which is called a technological superpower. Speaking more down-to-Earth, because safety is ensured, there are times when you can build plamo with a small child with peace of mind.

Interviewer: I’ve heard that three generations of parents, children, and grandchildren enjoy the 2199 plamodels together.

Kishiyama: My son is a junior in high school, and he’s a Yamato fan. It’s amazing how works are loved across time, isn’t it?

One of the pleasures of plamo is the ability to embody freeform ideas. Yamato fans post their
masterpieces online every month. The Cosmo Falcons in this photo (built by “Monri”) are painted
in marine camouflage style and
Star Wars style.

Interviewer: Is there a production point you would like to introduce to users who assemble a kit?

Kishiyama: I don’t know if this can be considered a production point, but whenever we develop products, not just for Yamato, we keep in mind how to make it easy to modify and process the “material.” The appeal of a plamodel is that it’s easy to work with, unlike metal materials. Nowadays, there are a lot of tools and materials used for crafting, and we want to make kits that can respond to that.

Interviewer: Lighting is a trend among modelers.

Kishiyama: I think a ship is more advantageous if it can accommodate a battery box. You can make a fighter look better with relatively simple work such as lighting the cockpit panel or attaching lights to the wingtips. Because it is more compact than a ship, I think the appeal of a fighter model is that it can be built easily. If you’re a Yamato fan who has stayed away from plamo until now, wouldn’t it be easier to start with a fighter?

The “turret ring” for fightercraft was precisely reproduced for the
Yamato 2199 expansion set. According to Kishiyama,
during the production of
2199, the staff wondered if it was
possible to fit a circular turret inside
Yamato‘s hull, and the
product was born based on their conversations.
“The configuration has a space above the turret to store the
Cosmo Zero,” Kishiyama said, “so in order to reproduce it as
plamo, the upper part of the turret was cut off and flattened.
I couldn’t leave out the Cosmo Zero! (Laughs)”

Interviewer: Some modelers like to cannibalize multiple kits into “new models.” There seem to be fierce users who like to remodel. What do you think of that as a manufacturer?

Kishiyama: Please cannibalize it more and more. (Laughs) As I said, we offer “good-natured material.” [Mecha designer] Junichiro Tamamori once posted an illustration on the net with a commentary like, “Maybe Andromeda could be connected to two battleships like a catamaran.” He drew the illustration from there. If you take two battleships and stick them together, you can do it with plamo. For example, you could attach two 3-deck carriers to make a double 3-deck carrier. I think the real thrill of plamodels is that you can turn such free ideas into reality.

The way ships and fighters work together is what makes Yamato so unique

Interviewer: Speaking of the Yamato series, battleships are still the main characters, and Bandai’s plamodel lineup is also centered on battleships. Among them, what do you think is the appeal of Yamato‘s warships?

Kishiyama: Certainly, the main character of the Yamato series is the battleship. Even in reality, the places where fighters can play an active role are more limited than they used to be, since missiles can cover a wide range. But for me, space fighters are indispensable in the world of Yamato. I think around the time Farewell was released in theaters (1978) candy stores sold a lottery-like card called Space Battleship Yamato cards.

Interviewer: That’s correct.

Kishiyama: Among them, there was a card that portrayed Yamato with a large number of Cosmo Tigers and Earth in the background. That was very cool. In the main story, activities were often depicted of Yamato on its own, but because of the influence of that card on me, it seems more real to see Yamato and its fighters working together to carry out an operation. Even in the Battle of the Rainbow Star Cluster, the Gamilas side had sets of ships and air power. I think such developments have an appeal that is unique to the Yamato series, which you don’t see in other anime such as Gundam.

Hirofumi Kishiyama has done a lot of Gunpla development, and is responsible for more than 600 plamodel products for Evangelion, Patlabor, Star Trek, and more. His motto is “I wonder if that could happen.”

Related reading:

First 2199 interview with Kishiyama, 2013

More 2013 interviews with Kishiyama

2014 interview with Kishiyama

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