As you may or may not be aware, the next entry in the love-it-or-loathe-it Gundam Fix Figuration series will be the “Crossbone Gundam X-1″ from the Gundam X series.
That’s numero sixteen, for those keeping score. And like it or not, you’re going to see more of ‘em. The Fix series (or “G.F.F.,” as Japanese fans call it) is hotter than ever in Japan.
And why wouldn’t it be? The appeal of the G.F.F. toys isn’t so much that they’re “action figures.” It’s because they look nearly as good as the renditions fans have drooled over in hobby magazines for the last twenty years. Mobile Suit Gundam fandom was first and foremost founded on model-building rather than toys. The most interesting aspect of the G.F.F. series is its attempt to fuse the detail of models with the instant gratification of toys.
Whether they’ve succeeded or not is largely a matter of taste. But like it or not, Bandai (and Japanese fans) seem to be behind the series full force. Don’t take my word for it, though! Check out this interview with series designer Katoki Hajime and Bandai project director Katsuo Izumi. It’s a bit of a puff piece, but whaddya expect? It’s an excerpt from the July 2003 issue of Hobby Japan magazine and is printed here, ah, somewhat unofficially. Enjoy! (Are those sirens I hear in the distance…!?)
Hobby Japan: Can you tell us about the sequence of events that led to the beginning of the Gundam Fix Figuration (G.F.F.) series?
Katsuo Izumi (I): I was overseeing the Super Imaginative Chogokin (S.I.C.) Hakaider project at the time. Based on that experience, I got the confidence to try making something that was far more detailed than anything that had come before. So the idea came from my thinking that it’d be nice to do an S.I.C. sort of thing with Gundam. That’s when I approached Mr. Katoki.
Hajime Katoki (K): At the time I really admired what I’d seen in the S.I.C. and Spawn series of figures. But all of them were monsters. Initially, I said I wasn’t interested because I didn’t want to do anything non-robot.
I: But then you saw an example of “tampo” printing.
K: Yeah, I’d been interested in the process even before that, when I saw 1:87 scale car models with really fine details like emblems and ornaments printed on them. I decided that I had to try it out on a robot sometime. Then, around that time, I saw the “tetsu” versions of the Mobile Suit in Action (M.S.i.A.) toys, which had been tampo printed with some pretty detailed designs. At that point I was half convinced that with a little work tampo printing would be perfect for robots. I wasn’t really satisfied with the molding capabilities at the time, but by ’99 the M.S.i.A. series had started getting a lot of attention, and candy toys were starting to get really popular as well. I was starting to feel like a series of high-quality Gundam toys would be coming along whether I was involved or not. I could already tell that no matter how “high quality” they might be, I still wouldn’t be satisfied with them. And so rather than sitting there waiting to be dissatisfied later on, I thought it’d be a better use of my skills to get involved directly and challenge myself to making the product even better right now.
I: A lot of trial and error was involved in figuring out how to proceed. At first we built prototypes in-house here at Bandai based on Mr. Katoki’s designs. But when we did things this way, the way they’d always been done up to that point, the design would inevitably start looking too much like a blueprint.
K: And so there was a lot of back-and-forth between us and the modelers trying to get areas that just couldn’t be cut from the blueprints to look good. There are always things that need to be fine-tuned when you actually start mass production, and being aware of that, it was especially important to have a sculpt we were satisfied with from the get-go. We got a lot of help from Hobby Japan, who introduced us to various pro modelers.
I: On the Bandai side, we took the finished prototype and tried to devise a way to mass produce a product that would still satisfy Mr. Katoki, and how to create a manufacturing process that would ensure that we didn’t lose any detail. There was a lot of negotiation with the factory in China. “Manufactured abroad” can have the connotation of a lower quality product, but the factory we chose was full of people who were intensely devoted to making high quality products. They really put a lot of thought into coming up with new ways of doing things and making the product match the prototypes. Their craftsmen really helped make the project happen.
HJ: What sort of direction do you see the series taking from here?
I: Well, the Crossbone Gundam is set for an August 2003 release. And after that, there’s the Zetaplus. After that, I’d like to try another transforming design like we did back with the Wing Gundam Early Model.
K: In the future, I’d like to do at least one Gundam that’s never been done as a product before. I’d like to add high-quality versions of as many of these “unloved” Gundams to the line as I can. The Crossbone is the first example of that. And up until now, it’s been restricted to Gundam. I’d like to take G.F.F. beyond that, and I’m looking forward to it!