Monday, October 02, 2006

Takara interview on Transformers Binatech Part II

The project began with differing intentions between Japan and America.
The new Binaltech series was born out of a combination of Japanese and American ideas. Of course, not all the ideas meshed well with one another at first. Mr. Kobayashi, who is in charge of development, describes the process in which they reached a compromise.Kobayashi: Our company [Takara] co-develops with Hasbro Inc. in the United States (Hasbro henceforth), and they first contacted us with the desire to create a line aimed at a generation between children and adults. Hasbro's original idea at that time was that realistic-looking cars would be an instant success, so why not obtain licenses from the actual car manufacturers?Our company, on the other hand, also had a long-standing idea; to remake the toys from our early days. The challenge for Takara was that we wanted to design them with precise reproductions of the car's interior, and with a complicated transformation. Both Hasbro's and Takara's ideas and wishes came together nicely, and we decided to begin the development of the new series.However, Hasbro's initial concept was for something along the size of the "Transformers Car Robot" series that ran in 2000, with simpler transformations. So we relayed our ideas to them, and Binaltech was the result of our discussion.

The first Transformer Mr. Kobayashi undertook was a character named "Speedbreaker", who appeared in the "Car Robot" series. Speedbreaker was one of the "Car Robo Trio" (the three Car Robot Brothers); a realistic car, not unlike a Dodge Viper, that transformed into a fully articulated robot. Speedbreaker's size was approximately 1/32 scale, and while being compact, was popular as a well-proportioned toy in both vehicle and robot modes. However, Kobayashi himself says it was an item which left him with some regrets.Kobayashi: The characters who turn into cars are many times more difficult to create than characters who turn in animals, because they need to have distinct appearances. I had no option but to create Speedbreaker with an asymmetrical design, and I continually doubted whether that would make his robot mode look appealing. I had always thought that a symmetrical design would have been much cooler. So, I for one was very excited to finally turn that into a reality with the Binaltechs.

Thus the project began around 2001 and 2002. The first thing to accomplish was to calculate costs. After that, discussions were begun over the approximate size of the toys, number of parts and their materials. In regards to development and costs, there were more restrictions than with earlier lines; in fact, there were many hardships.Kobayashi: First and foremost, our people calculated the essential costs. Hasbro also had their own estimated costs, and as we talked it over, we eventually settled on a 1/24 scale; which is a standard scale for model cars.After years of experience with products like these, we had a pretty good grasp on the relationship between size and cost. [Beginning of page 114] So initially, we thought that the 1/24 scale would not be possible. However, Hasbro had already been planning for the cost of a 1/24 scale, so that left us to take a completely different view; to think up clever transformations as well as reproductions of the interiors with the least essential number of parts. We thought of potential problems and how to solve them.Shirakami: Binaltechs are larger in size than our earlier toys, and the standards of toy production are different now than they were at the time; considerably more strict. There is less freedom in what we can recreate with this scale. You might think that ensuring the clearance, durability, and such is easier than before, since [a toy is] bigger, but in fact, it's more difficult.Kobayashi: I remember what the employee who made the prototype said; that he couldn't have made it if it wasn't that size. Apparently, that size was the smallest possible scale to reproduce the clearance of each part.Shirakami: I, myself, was worried over how I could put Kobayashi's ideas and prototypes into actual production. I heard that the vendors in China who were in charge of production let out a cry of frustration.Kobayashi: And from Takara's point of view, there was the idea that a smaller scale might be a better option. We suggested to Hasbro a 1/32 scale, but by that time, they told us that unless it were a 1/24 scale at the very least, it wouldn't garner much attention among other merchandise on American shelves. That was the final reason we needed to settle on that size. That also had bearing on later decisions, like using die-cast parts in Japan.The first prototype utilized several ball-joints in order to allow a very complex transformation and create a cool-looking robot. The inalterable portions of the vehicle mode, such as the width of the car or the tires, were taken into consideration to achieve our goal of the best-looking robot mode possible. We even attempted to fit a glittering Spark, the soul of a Transformer, into the hood as one of our details. However, that didn't align with Hasbro's estimated costs and was thus the first thing to be taken off to secure clearance for the transformation.Shirakami: Hasbro has always been keeping a stance of "the cost is the priority". There is a set price first, then we need to produce a toy within the range of that budget. In Japan, we might consider increasing the budget a bit, as we believe a better product will yield better sales. However, in America, they do not think that way. So to meet that standard, we made several sacrifices, such as lessening the parts and simplifying the structures.


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