A fun sub-series of Transformers merchandising from Japan are the Transformers Kabaya kits. These “candy toys” are sold in Japanese grocery stores and come with a piece of candy – gum usually – and a model kit. The main appeal’s the model kit of course. Transformers have had such model kits since the 1980s and these have recently undergone a bit of a revival, with both new takes on existing characters and also an all-new character in the form of Gaia Cross. Transformers Generations 2011 volume 1 featured an interview with Mr. Koutaro Hayashi and Mr. Masakazu Kunimitsu, who are working on the current series of Transformers gum. It’s a short but very insightful interview, translated into English for your enjoyment by 2005 Boards staff member SydneyY! Read on and check it out! Kabaya Staff Interview – The Revival of Transformer Gum
Mr. Koutaro Hayashi (left) and Mr. Masakazu Kunimitsu (right)
– Firstly, tell us about how “Transformer Gum” series was brought back.
Hayashi: TakaraTomy asked Kabaya if we were interested as 2009 was the 25th anniversary. The timing was also good thanks to the hugely successful 2007 Hollywood blockbuster.
-Why did you choose G1 characters over the ones from the live action movie?
Hayashi: Initially, some suggested that the Movie characters should be included, but considering the lineup was to commemorate the 25th anniversary, I thought it would serve better if it looked back at the history. Also, we expected two generations of customers; if a father and his child were to buy our products, G1 characters might appeal to the fathers more.
Kunimitsu: Hayashi has a very strong attachment to G1, and this project was realised because he pushed it with enthusiasm within the company. TakaraTomy also requested us not to simply copy the original (G1 Kabaya) products, but to remake them with the current viewpoint. Hayashi revised (the originals) and included his own interpretation of proportions and gimmicks.
Hayashi: Even before we released the products, the customers responded positively to the news of the revival of “Transformer Gum”, and various online shops began taking preorders. I was encouraged to know that there were very supportive fans.
– How did you decide on the final lineup?
Hayashi: The first wave was successive generations of commanders. Naturally, we couldn’t do without G1 Convoy. For the second one, I chose Star Saber because of his different type of appearance – Super Ginrai looked too similar to Convoy. It also factored greatly that I was a Star Saber fan. (*laughs)
Kunimitsu: The third, “Henkei” Convoy was added to the lineup for children. “Henkei” was the latest series at that time and children were familiar with (Henkei Convoy) because of the features in kids magazines. It was convenient as well for the production of the moulds; those 3 could be represented with the same red, blue and white.
– Tell us about the succeeding waves 2 and 3.
Hayashi: Firstly, TakaraTomy requested us to include at least one main character in each wave. “2010” was the next series, and with the advice from TakaraTomy, I picked Ultra Magnus, who was also my personal favourite. His proportions have been altered to be more modern. Then I chose children’s favourite vehicles; a plane and a police car – Skyfire and Prowl. As for the third wave, I introduced a new surprise, the combining gimmick. The combination of Super Ginrai and God Bomber was realised although it was not possible in original G1 Kabaya, My childhood dream came true! (*laughs) I altered their proportions by making the heads smaller and arms longer. To help myself visualise, I used modified images of the original toys.
Kunimitsu: Hayashi is very particular to the “stance”. Many original toys such as God Bomber have closed legs to make them stable when standing, but Hayashi made them standing with the legs apart.
Hayashi: I want them standing firm with thier feet set apart. (*laughs) Lastly, I picked Starscream (for the lineup). The character is so well known that characters with the same name have been appearing as the second-in-command of the enemy side in the various series after G1. The illustration of him on the package is newly drawn for the kit.
Kunimitsu: (Starscream being in the lineup) was also thanks to the fact that Star Saber and Skyfire from the waves 1 and 2 were highly appreciated. The planes stood out among the lineups that tend to favour automobiles.
-Tell us about Kabaya’s original character, “Gaia Cross”.
Kunimitsu: It was a project aimed at expanding our product lines in the wake of the successful Transformer Gum. It is a modern version of “Transformer Choco”, which was marketed as a simpler alternative to Transformer Gum series (in the 80s and the 90s). The series had good playability desipite its smaller size, and we took the same Gum/Choco approach to “Brave” Kabaya.
To differentiate them from Transformer Gum, I wanted to make them lower priced and highly collectable, and thought of Multiforce “Land Cross”, which were incidentally comprised of 6 characters. Land Cross is a masterpiece which was also featured in the original G1 Gum series. They not only transform into vehicles, but one combines with another as well as all six combine together. It is a great Transformer. I felt it was the most suitable characteristic of candy toys if buying more would make them more enjoyable. I asked TakaraTomy’s permission straight away. They agreed and requested an updated version that retained the charm of the original. To do that, I needed to alter the proportions and gimmicks, and I contrived the new designs while at the same time being careful with how much liberty I should take. I was uncertain how Transformers fans would like them because the name and the design were changed.
– Land Cross was reissued as convenience store merchandise (in 2003).
Kunimitsu: Yes, that is another reason for the alterations. I thought it wouldn’t be appealing if it is exactly the same (as reissue Land Cross). I changed some vehicle modes and included vehicles that would interest children such as a fire engine or a drill tank. This is how Gaia Cross was completed – and it took me 3 months to come up with the structure. It was difficult enough to realise 2 robot and 6 robot combinations, and the complex mechanism had to be available with a low price. To achieve it, the number of the parts had to be about 20. I gave up on the perfect transformation and resorted to parts-forming. The problem (with parts-forming) is excess parts and I had to think of the ways to arrange them. A combiner which is easy to build, fun to play and with no leftover excess parts – it took me another 4 months to draw a plan that met those conditions, and the product was finally released in April. Thanks to the parts-forming, the proportions were good in both robot and vehicle modes. 2 robot combination of the same type is possible in theory, so I can even recommend buying multiple. You can keep combining dozens of them upward and downward, too! (*laughs) To provide the nostalgia with the texture, polyethylene was used as the material.
– When did the relation between Takara and Kabaya begin in the first place?
Kunimitsu: As far as I know of, since Microman Gum (early 80s). Only the person who was in charge at that time knows if there was anything before that. Since then, Takara sponsored Transformers and Brave TV series and Kabaya was the sub-sponsor. Kabaya Gum model kits at the time were intricate scaled down versions of Takara’s toys, and I hear Takara was very supportive. Without our relation with Takara, I doubt Kabaya would have been the same as we are now. It was the same when I worked on (the Kabaya versions of) “Micron Legend” (Armada) Micron. I was allowed to take photos of the actual toys, and it helped me recreate them as if they were replicas. Even though Kabaya’s TV sponsorship ended at “Galaxy Force” (Cybertron), the relation with TakaraTomy has continued with our current products such as Pla Rail, which Hayashi is in charge of, and Tomica, which I am responsible for.
– Many Kabaya products feature model kits, and the tenaciousness seems to be the characteristics of the company. Where did it originate?
Kunimitsu: I consider our root is “BIG One Gum” in the 80s*.The origin of Kabaya toys was a coupon packed with candies which could be collected and exchanged for a picture book, and for a while those extra incentives had been nothing more until BIG One Gum reversed the concept. The series featured intricate miniature model kits packed with a piece of chewing gum and revolutionised the common practice of candy toy products. I loved BIG One Gum myself when I was small and always took one along on a school excursion. (*laughs) The person in charge always tried his best to actually go and take a look at the actual vehicles the model kits were based on whenever possible. He always did so with automobiles of course, and when he had an opportunity, he even inspected some inner parts of the tank. He has retired and is not with the company anymore, but his dedication remains with us who grew up with BIG One Gum.
(*note by Sydney: “BIG One Gum” series were first released in 1980 and continued for 10 years. The model kits included in BIG One series are noted as the first series of candy toys which were intricate and in fact bigger that the candy and thus the main appeal of the product. They featured models of military and commercial vehicles, vessels and airplanes.)
– Tell us about your future aspirations.
Kunimitsu: There are no immediate plans for future product development, but I’d of course hope to continue the (Kabaya Transformers) series. Personally, I want to make a base which also functions as storage for Gaia Cross.
Hayashi: The 4th wave of Transformer Gum is currently being developed. Personally, I want to work on G1 Scramble Combiners.
Kunimitsu: Hey, leave small robot combiners to me! Oh, I got it, you can make the main bigger robot, and I can do the smaller limb robots. (*laughs)
– Lastly, your messages to the fans, please.
Hayashi: I hope to continue on creating products that exactly meet the fan’s expectations while retaining the 300 yen price point. I will also do my best to realise what we wanted (from the original G1 Gum kits) like God Ginrai. Please give us your support.
Kunimitsu: Just like we remember the original G1 Gum that we had when we were small, we will keep on producing products that will leave long lasting impressions on the children now. I suppose the fans back then are now mums and dads, and I hope you will enjoy our products with your children and pass (the enjoyment) to the new generation.
Trivia: Mr. Hayashi is also responsible for Kabaya’s successful “Duel Knights” series for which Volks provides robot models.