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The Man that Invented Transformers

The following is an English translation from the original interview that appeared in the June issue of Hobby Japan magazine. This article is from a series called "Robots Station 2002: Men Who Make Robot Toys."

Hobby Japan's plan for this series is to interview men, dream makers, who make the newest toys on the market and report the secrets of the most popular and legendary robots. In this issue, they invited Mr. Nobuyuki Okude, Executive Vice President of Takara Co. Ltd. ("Takara"), who invented one of the the most popular and legendary toys, Transformers ("TF"), and asked him to talk about the secretes of the TF's invention.

Personal Profile:
  • Takara Co. Ltd., Vice President
  • Nobuyuki Okude (58), employed with Takara for 36 years
  • Dream Robot that he wants to make someday: Robots which have feelings and individuality. I want them to play with children like friends.

  • Have the Same View as Children

    Q: What kinds of toys did you play with when you were little?
    A: When I was little, not many children had toys like everybody have now. When I was little, it was when the tin plate toys with a spring were just introduced, so I was playing outside running around, not so much with toys.

    Q: When were you born? 1944?
    A: Yes. I was born right after the World War II, when things were not so good.

    Q: Then was it almost 30 years ago when you joined Takara?
    A:Along time ago! My first successful toy I created at Takara was called Punch Kick. Do you know it? Then I was transferred to transformation cyborg (a compound word from cybernetic organism) team, Diaclone team, and TF planning team. You can use your own creativity when you make toys, and this is the fun part of this job.

    Q: Sounds fun! Do you have any secrets in your creativity to produce a lot of popular toys?
    A: Well, This sounds a little ordinary, but it is important to know in what things boys, ages between 3 to 10, are interested. I read a lot of comic books and magazines and watched animations in order for me to have the same view with these kids. When I was in charge of Diaclone, my son was around 8, so I took the testing of Diaclone toys home and played with him. So my sons opinions were reflected into the toys I made around that period.

    Q: Wow! I am jealous! Your son must be very happy!
    A: Well, when a toy was sold as product, I opened the box for myself and play with it. This is the most fun moment for me. Then I gave it to my son.

    A Super Car Became A Robot

    Q: Let's ask you about Transformers (TF). How was the TF invented?
    A: In that era, transformation/combination super amalgam toys such as Mazingar Z were very famous. Takara had two different original characters, "Microman" and "Diaclone". It was when Takara started business in abroad due to the contract signed between Takara and Hasbro. Hasbro proposed Takara to combine those two popular characters, and create a new series. Therefore we created tools for the most popular car robot among Diaclone toys and developed in to TF.

    Q: Um, you were smooth talking with the invention of TF.
    A: Hahaha, I talked a lot about the invention of TF at various interviews. Well, when we developed TF and TF concepts, we needed Science Fiction ("SF") concepts into the toys. It is difficult for us to determine what other source/concepts we should include into TF.

    Q: Well, boys in that era love SF!
    A: Yes. Our main target was boys, so we really looked for what the boys have around them and what they were interested in. Then we found that they all like cars! There were super car toys in that period, so we changed super cars into robots. SciFi Car robots became convoy and then that became the TF foundation.

    Q: I like this car type of toy because there is more to a toy with easy transformation change. You can also play with this as a car.
    A: The point of this car robots was reproduction of car model. Therefore, the cars were made in detail. They have to be just like the real cars. Other wise the attraction of these toys will be half. It was important for the children to feel that they can change the real cars into robots by their hands.

    Various Things

    Q: How did you come up with new TF characters for transformation in addition to the cars?
    A: Well, at the beginning, we are tying to them into every thing. Such as cars, animals, buildings and even a pyramid. Among children, the most popular things were animals and cars. The exception was cassette type recorders. We found that children seem to be interested in ordinary things around them.

    Q: Were there any ideas which were No Good?
    A: Oh, yeah. There were many! For example, there was one which the secret code was set at the formation part like a security box, so the children must find out the codes, otherwise the formation did not happen.

    Q: That's too much for children!
    A: Then there was Unicron from the animation series. That was too big.

    Q: Why do you think TF became so popular? Did you differentiate TF from other toys?
    A: Of course! The different part is that all robots have differences that make them like living things. It is like that many robots have different ideas, speak different languages, and take different actions. This is the primary difference. The second difference is that there has been always only one hero robot in most of the Japanese drama, but TF was active as a group. Also, we sold and put the same values on both good and bad characters. Usually, there was only one hero who became the sales target, but we sold toys for both good and bad. So we sold sold a lot more with Cybertron and Destron. By creating our own versus world, we sold them in much larger numbers.

    Q: You produced so many bad characters. If you did not sell those, it would have caused a big problem. So you took a big chance for lining up all those characters?
    A: Yes. To be honest, I was a little afraid…

    Japan is always Tri-Color!

    Q: Then finally TF was sold in the U. S. Do you have any particular memories?
    A: Around that time, nobody thought that this would be popular like this. It all disappeared from the market because of the big boom right after they started selling in 1984. We had hard time producing to catch up the demands. The original convoy had 10 types, but all of them were constantly active.

    Q: Was it planned to be coupled with animation before the sale?
    A: No. The plan of linking the animation came up after the sales. We've heard that the animation became very popular also, so we planned to import the animation to Japan. Then we faced to the difficulty in Microman and Diacron, because these two were already sold and popular. Then Takara decided to eliminate those two from the market, and started selling TF.

    Q: Uh, there is a lot of difference between American TF and Japanese TF.
    A: At the beginning, TF's design and gimmick were the same, but we started choosing colors for America. Every time we have to decide which color we should use for toys, we had a big argument with the American side. The American side said "The Japanese side always use only tri-colors. Colors are unlimited, and we have to use these and enjoy". Then we had big arguments with the Japanese side when we decided to use shocking orange, purple, and deep green. The American's are always very serious about the production cost, so the toys in America are simpler than the Japanese ones such as having less die-cast parts, using plastic instead of rubber, and using easier to transform gimmicks.

    In the Future

    Q: I've heard that TF will be interesting this year…
    A: Oh, yeah. In the next year, we will start new series of toys developed by both the American and Japanese sides. This is the first time in the TF's 20 years history. I can not tell you in detail yet, but the Japanese sides will produce animation and toys, and open to the public in the U.S. first, then Japan. We are looking forward to it.

    Many thanks to Hobby Japan and Shoko-san for providing the translated version of this article!

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