The following interviews were published in two magazines: Hobby Japan #528 (June 2013 issue) and Hyper Hobby #179 (August 2013 issue). In case you aren’t familiar with the terminology of Japan’s modeling world, “plamodel” and “plakit” are both slang for “plastic model kit.”
Approaching the appeal of the Bandai 2199 Plakit Series!!
Bandai Hobby Division Development Section
Hirofumi Kishiyama interview
Since the launch of the 1/1000 scale Space Battleship Yamato 2199, first in the lineup of Bandai Hobby’s Yamato 2199 plakit series, the types and varieties have steadily increased. Unifying the scale of the ships at 1/1000 and the planes at 1/72 makes it a joy to collect. Furthermore, the sharp molding, ease of assembly from high precision, and classification by color casting are merits that could only come from a Bandai product. How was such appeal fully realized? Here we speak with Mr. Hirofumi Kishiyama, developer of the 2199 plakit series for Bandai’s Hobby Division.
How to improve quality in a short cycle
Interviewer: The TV broadcast has begun, your company will soon release the 1/1000 Polmeria-class and Garmillas Warship set 2 kits, and more 2199 models will rise in the future. Can you talk about developments in your company that lead to the 1/1000 Yamato 2199 release?
Kishiyama: In terms of Yamato products, we had the opportunity to release a new one in 2007, the 1/350 Yamato plamodel. If we take the plakit of the RX-78 Gundam as an example, we reflect the voice of the users over and over again and repeatedly remake right up to today, but for Yamato plakits, such work had stopped long ago. So I gathered comments from various experts at the beginning of development on the 1/350, and although we attempted to reflect their thoughts, there were many restrictions because the product incorporated various gimmicks, so their opinions could not be taken into account.
However, in the wake of this, I think the major benefit was maintaining points of contact with people involved in Yamato, including some in the anime industry. I got a photo of a Yamato prototype from Hideaki Anno, and thought, “this is awesome.” Then there was a request from Bandai Visual to attach it to a video product in the form of an OEM.[Translator’s note: OEM is the abbreviation for Original Equipment Manufacture, in which a product made by one company becomes a component of another company’s product. In this case, the reference is to a 1/700 Yamato kit developed by Hideaki Ito and manufactured by Bandai Hobby for release by Bandai Visual. Read all about that project here.]
In this way, the 1/700 injection kit born under Mr. Anno’s supervision was released with the 2008 Space Battleship Yamato DVD Box (first-press limited edition). It became the first bonus enclosure. I thought, “it would be great if we could do it this way,” and it became an opportunity to raise the skill level and get more recognition for Yamato.
The 1/500 Yamato was then released in 2010. Meanwhile, I got cooking on how it would be possible to make better Yamato plakits, and that research resulted in the 2199 series. Therefore, from the time it started, it took about five years to arrange it. Preparations for the production of Yamato 2199 were underway, and when I talked to General Director Yutaka Izubuchi about the “next Yamato,” I was impressed.
For example, it could accommodate 32 planes in a cylindrical aircraft hanger, and the bridge had become slightly narrower than the original, so there was talk of expanding the length to 333 meters. The viewpoint was to compare people, planes, and the ship with the goal of making it as realistic as possible. Therefore, by building the hangar differently from the past, the design of 2199 values contrast, and I thought it would make for an appealing product. That’s how we performed the manufacturing of the 1/1000 Yamato 2199.
Interviewer: Was there any trouble with the development of the 1/1000 Yamato?
Kishiyama: By using such a compact scale as 1/1000, the barrels of the pulse laser guns became very thin. I had been thinking about using a soft material called asaflex so it could be restored, even if it was broken initially. We couldn’t use it because it was too thin, so they was made from polystyrene like the other parts.
Also, if we put big parts and delicate parts on the same runner there were side effects when the mold was filled with plastic at the same pressure, so even though the cost went up we resolved it by putting the pulse laser gun parts on an independent runner.
Interviewer: The kits in the 2199 series are made with high precision and sharp detail, and general colors are reproduced by proper color casting. Can you tell us about the effort and attention that goes into this?
Kishiyama: If we take Gunpla [Mobile Suit Gundam models] as an example, there is a more than 30-year history of accumulated know-how, but as I mentioned before there isn’t much for Yamato plamodels. So the development of the 2199 products comes from fast learning. We reflect on it in a case-by-case basis, then take advantage of “repetition” to raise the skill level from one to the next. Compared with Gunpla, it is being carried out in a very short time period. If you compare them by building each new item as it appears, you can see how the weak points of one product are solved in the next. You should be able to see the change. (Laughs)
For example, in the case of the UN Cosmo Navy allied battleships set, since the parts had to be divided according to color, we had to use a lot of trial and error to look for any irregularities in how they came out of the mold, to make sure they fit together properly. Sometimes it worked well, and sometimes it didn’t. We were able to immediately reflect that on the following Garmillas warship set. How to improve the quality in a short cycle is a matter of great importance in the 2199 series development.
The urge to make every ship at 1/1000 scale
One of the feelings is that by color-coding the parts, you can use an airbrush, for instance, to put a shadow on it, or even a simple ink method can lend presence and atmosphere. Also, since it wasn’t done very much with old Yamato merchandise, implementing a unified scale (1/1000 for ships, 1/72 for aircraft) allows for various mecha to be compared with each other.
I think one of the charms of naval fleet models like the waterline series is the sense of a large amount of resources forming a big lineup. Therefore, I’d really like to exhibit a large number of 1/1000 ships from 2199 in some future event.
Interviewer: In the 2199 lineup, items are often combined in the form of a “XX Set.” Why did you consider doing that sort of product?
Kishiyama: For the first 1/1000 Yamato, the price was 3800 yen, and the average price for 2199 products is about 3000 yen. Based on my experience in product development over the last 20 years, what first comes to mind is how far I can continue a series, and how we should arrange various possible ships.
In each product, you generally get a scattering of sales numbers. For instance, in the case of the Garmillas Warship set, we set out to sell one kind of product. When you sell a set with two kinds, costs for the boxes and molds mount, and the hurdles to making it into an actual product get higher. Above all else, you’re in business to build profits.
Additionally, if you pressed me on it, I’d say the users of this series are in the higher age range. Based on that, in an attempt to keep costs down, one policy we adopted was in the form of the “XX Sets,” in which we offer as many types of ship as we can. Now, it’s true that elementary school kids may want to watch 2199 as well, but there’s also a little voice I have to deal with that’s saying they don’t have much pocket money to spend.
In addition, old Yamato products are resold these days. For example, the mecha collection series is currently priced at 200 yen each, and the prices of 2199 products will seem high compared with the old ones, so that also has side effects. We’ve been able to resell the old products without changing the prices much since it can be maintained by the sales of new products, so that’s pretty seductive.
Interviewer: Is there anything in the 2199 kits that makes you stop and go, “This has some really fun possibilities to it!”?
Kishiyama: One example is that since the lower hull of a Garmillas destroyer is a separate piece, you can take off part of it to make an opening, and there’s space to put in a battery and a switch for LED lighting. There is an opening in the bow for clear parts, but in fact because of the lower structure you can use it as a maintenance hatch for lighting if you work a little harder.
And in terms of packaging, one example is the reflection satellite included in Garmillas Warship set 1. If you buy two or more of those sets, your reflection satellites will increase. (Laughs) If there’s an item that you might want to build up a number of, we include that sort of item as a bonus.
With UN Cosmo Navy ships set 1, we included a trideck carrier molded in a complementary color that wasn’t done previously, and the printed mecha collection box on the package could be enjoyed as papercraft. Furthermore, the old mecha collection Cosmo Zero and a Melanka was included with the Pormelia class, and the Saruba S-VI type heavy tank in Garmillas Warships set 2 is at the same scale. In other words, just as the ships are collected at the same scale, the kits at mecha collection size also gather in a unified scale, so this is another way to get enjoyment.
Interviewer: Concerning the upcoming developments in the 2199 series, how much are you allowed to tell us?
Kishiyama: I think you might consider why we’re coming out with the Pormelia-class. Of course there’s a reason, so it’s important to think about “If this is coming out now, does it mean that is coming out later?” Furthermore, because it is designed this way, it is seen as a kind of test case for how to raise the profitability of a metallic mold and lower the profit hurdle.
When Gunpla was released for the first time, do you know when item came out after the Gundam? In fact, it was mass-production-type Musai [spaceship]. You might think it was a mistake, but at the time it was thought that selling a supporting player for the protagonist Gundam in the early stages would help them to determine how far they would be able to carry the lineup, and the release of the Pormelia imitates that historical fact. It also comes out of the feeling of wanting to make all the ships at 1/1000 scale.
When we exhibited the Gaiperon-class multi-deck carrier, it was said that “it must be released, because Kishiyama likes the trideck carriers,” but the hurdle of manufacturing is still big. When considering such an attempt, the keyword is that when the Space Battleship Yamato feature film was released [in 1977], 2.3 million fans went to see it. It’s likely that the 2199 TV broadcast will ripple outward to touch even a small number of those old fans, and if this “festival” can be expanded to build a Yamato fan community that includes model-building, wouldn’t it naturally make everyone happy?
Interviewer: Thank you very much.
Enjoy 2199 plamo!!
The TV broadcast of 2199 has gotten a great response! We spoke to Mr. Hirofumi Kishiyama of Bandai Hobby, developer of the fast-paced 2199 plamo. He would like to make a unified “Mecha Collection” at 1/1000 scale.
Kishiyama: The plamo releases of Yamato 2199 have been developed at a unified scale of 1/1000. When I look back at Yamato plamo, the very first model to come out at the time of the 1974 broadcast had a windup motor, and it seemed that character plamo was made for very young age groups. [Translator’s note: “character plamo” is a catchall term for any model based on a fictional object.] At that time, Bandai had a missile fire from the Wave Gun and windup motors for movement, which was the normal way of thinking, but it didn’t sell well. Four kits were made for Yamato Part 1: Yamato, Analyzer, a Cosmo Zero, and a Black Tiger. [See them all here.]
But it was Yamato plamo that made a big turning point for character models when it shifted direction to scale models. Modified plamodels took advantage of the movie version of Part 1 (1977) and sold very well in those days. Then scale notation began with the kits for Farewell to Yamato, with the 1/700 Yamato, 1/700 Andromeda, etc. But there was no unified scale for the rest of the line, and there were some at very odd scales.
The truth is that, at that time, you made the thing and then reverse-engineered the scale from it. Scale notation was a new experiment, but it didn’t reach the joy of unification. The size of the box and the contents made the decision, and the result of that flow was that the scale was determined from there.
Interviewer: That’s regrettable. (Laughs)
Kishiyama: In terms of those days, the 100-yen Mecha Collection was a typical example of exactly what I’m talking about. The idea of “box selling” came out in that series, making various things that could all fit into the same size box. This method of pricing at the time was the way of thinking that moved Yamato from the windup motors to the next stage.
After that, the Gunpla from Mobile Suit Gundam developed with a unified scale of 1/144. Although it is one of the classic international scales, it just happened to match the size of the box. The international scales are 1/35 for tanks, 1/24 for cars, 1/12 for motorcycles, etc. Gunpla was developed at the unified scale of 1/144, so it was now possible to enjoy the size comparison of each Mobile Suit.
Interviewer: When the scale ratios are unified, a meaning emerges in the collection.
Kishiyama: Before starting the product development for 2199, I heard from Mr. Izubuchi that the considerable inconsistencies in the main body of Yamato were solved in advance. He said “the first bridge is not going to be a tennis court any more.” While making the model data this time, they were mindful of the comparison between people, airplanes, and ships, and wanted to pursue a realistic touch as much as possible. From the size of the bridge, the whole ship was calculated at 333 meters long.
Since I am “particular about comparisons,” I was very impressed. Mr. Izubuchi also thought about a rotary-type hangar to store a lot of planes, and we offered to cooperate on it. That was at the time we put the 1/500 Yamato on the market [December 2010], so the model used the data for the size and rotation of the turret for storage. When we established the actual three-dimensional 1/500 Yamato model, we cut the prototype into round slices and confirmed that 32 planes could fit in that structure.
Interviewer: You really sliced up a plamo?
Kishiyama: As we expected, some problems came up with the 1/1000 scale Yamato. If the thickness of the armor was truly made at 1/1000 scale, the internal volume would increase, but since a thickness of at least 1mm is needed for a plamo, the 1/1000 scale model gave us some problems. You verify this with an actual model rather than a CG model for those who produce the anime, so that “you cannot tell a lie.” I think you’re better able to see it with a little cooperation.
Interviewer: The comparison between people, planes, and each part of Yamato are presented very convincingly in 2199.
Kishiyama: In the 1/1000 Yamato, it’s easy to imagine the size of a person by showing the hangar where the Falcons are stored, so it shows a consideration for the size comparison with people. I think the mission of Bandai through plamodels is to make products that explore such integrity.
Interviewer: What was the reason for you to settle on 1/1000 scale?
Kishiyama: Actually, the classic international scale for ships is 1/700, and 1/1000 is not an international scale.
In the model settings for 2199, the total length of Yamato is 333 meters. 1/1000 is 33.3cm. If it were 1/700 scale, it would be approximately 48cm. This might be a reasonable size if you were thinking only of Yamato, but if everything were unified at 1/700, the Gaiderol-class would be about 50cm, the Gelvades-class carrier would be about 56cm, and the Gaiperon-class multi-deck carriers would be about 59cm. If it were at 1/1000 scale, they end up at 35cm, 39cm, and 41cm. In other words, if we were to do the Garmillas ships in the future, which are bigger than Yamato, it was necessary to make Yamato a bit smaller in anticipation as much as possible.
Interviewer: So after considering the reality of commercialization, it came to 1/1000.
Kishiyama: That’s right. After all, the sense of value from lining up a set of vessels is attractive. I have no doubt in my mind that, even among the robots that dominate character plamo, we will once again be able to show the worth of battleships. (Laughs) I do it with the hope that it can in some way convey the impression of the best parts, such as the Operation M strategy or the naval review in Episode 18.
Interviewer: Come to think of it, some were surprised that the Pormelia-class carrier is already bigger than Yamato.
Kishiyama: I just remembered a story from the old days. When the first Gundam plamo became an explosive seller, in order to explore what else was possible, the order from the top was “put out this item!” It was a mass-production Musai. The power balance wasn’t understood and it wasn’t known how popular it was, so when it was asked “why the Musai?” the answer was, “We want to know the lower limit.” Therefore, a lot of things could be done if the Musai was established, so the mass-production Musai had a role like that of litmus paper. This time it’s called the Pormelia. (Laughs)
Interviewer: How are sales going for the Yamato 2199 plamo series?
Kokito: Kokito here, from the marketing team. The 1/1000 Yamato was released July 12 . The initial impression was very good. The feeling was that awareness of Yamato was higher due to the theater and video releases. It dropped gradually after that and continued with lower sales. When the TV broadcast began, sales doubled in the next week and doubled again the week after that, so sales increased smoothly.
There can’t be that many people in their 20s and 30s buying Yamato, so it must be new people. The strong sense is that Yamato is important. Now that Yamato is on TV, I’ve heard that some are buying their first plamo in 20 or 30 years. In addition, schoolchildren and those in their teens and twenties are buying more than we expected, so Yamato 2199 seems able to reach out to new fans and those who have been away for a while.
Even Mr. Izubuchi says that among the staff surrounding 2199 and others who cooperate, a lot of them say, “I wouldn’t do this if it wasn’t Yamato!” There is the strong feeling that Yamato is a priceless thing.
Kishiyama: Mr. Izubuchi calls it “Yamato love.” It feels like we’re pouring out an impossible amount of love all together. It’s amazing that releases have continued every month since July of last year. It’s like a dream come true. It meets the Yamato love of every fan, so because the releases will continue, thank you in advance.
Special thanks to Neil Nadelman for translation support.
Read a longer interview with Kishiyama from April 2013 here.