ULTIMATE: Forging the Ultimate Toy from Sheet Steel

Tetsujin 28The year: 1981. Popy's groundbreaking new "Chokinzoku" ("Super Metal") series began and ended with a single product: "Tetsujin 28." Why? Look no further than the material covering Tetsujin's body.

"When the time came to design a new Tetsujin product, I was at a loss as to what exactly to make," recalls Murakami. "Like 'Mazinger Z,' 'Tetsujin 28' is famous for being a standalone, singular robot. You can't incorporate any kind of transformation or combination system; it wouldn't work conceptually. So I came up with the idea of doing something with the 'technical' portions of the robot. By this point, our manufacturing technology had increased by leaps and bounds over the 'Mazinger Z' days. So I decided to put that technology to work, increasing the scale of the toy and making it so that you could see all of the robot's internal mechanical components. And in order to really emphasize Tetsujin's weight, I decided to make the outer skin not from die-cast but rather 1mm steel plating that could be attached or detached from the toy via magnets."

Thus was the "Chokinzoku" born -- and the costs and technical hurdles associated with working the steel plating gave Popy no end of trouble.

"At the time, the Popy factory had a handful of ten-meter metal presses. They were normally used to make toy cars and things like that, but they were pretty much sitting idle at the time. I knew it would be a little expensive, but I felt that sheet steel would be the perfect material for Tetsujin. The presses were just sitting there anyway, so I managed to persuade the company to let me do it."

No sooner had the products rolled off the assembly line, however, than the "Chokinzoku" brand name faded into history.

"Metal was already in decline in the industry as a material for toys, so I wanted to use the 'Chokinzoku Tetsujin 28' as a grand finale. The company wasn't particularly interested in making any more products due to the cost, and there weren't really any other characters crying out for the all-metal treatment like Tetsujin, so I saw it as the end of the line as well."\

Murakami describes the specific process he used to update the design of the character.

"I first met [Tetsujin 28 creator] Mitsuteru Yokoyama when we were making a 'Meisaku Series' Chogokin of the old Tetsujin 28. We went to his home to obtain permission to use the likeness, but we couldn't get him to sign off on it. Finally, after going to back time and time again, he agreed to let us make a product of the old Tetsujin 28. Some years later, an advertising company sent me the proposal for a new Tetsujin 28 series, and I went to visit Yokoyama-sensei again. Just like before, he said he wasn't particularly interested, but I interpreted that as meaning that he'd make his decision after he saw the design. So I took over the task of re-designing a new Tetsujin 28, and had the advertising company take a look at my finished design. They told me 'this is great!' and that was it. Keep it simple and clear, is what I had told myself when I was working on it. I remember the marketing company being really happy about the design. I was saddened to hear that Yokoyama-sensei passed away on April 15, 2004. Thanks to him, I was able to bring the Chokinzoku Tetsujin 28 into this world. I still look back on it with pride."

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