An Interview With
Original Japanese to English translation by Matt Alt
"Chogokin." It doesn't even need to be said that the parent who
gave birth to the term is Go Nagai. His pioneering Mazinger Z is considered to be the pinnacle of robot toys...
Go Nagai: Manga artist. Starting with Mazinger Z (1972), created a series of robot shows. Creator of many classic robots.
-Could you speak a bit about the development of merchandising for Mazinger Z back then?
At the time, I realized that almost no anime robots had had any sort of merchandising development [up to that point]. When Mazinger Z was first in production, there had been some talk that a company called Bandai would be involved, but they got out all of a sudden, and we got on board with Popy, if I remember correctly. The circumstances surrounding that, I don't know if they were business-related or what, but Popy wasn't very active at first. There was talk here and there about merchandising, but I felt that it was the effect of good ratings that got things moving at first. Because of this there wasn't any sort of talk about merchandising before we started work.
-What was your impression of the first chogokin after holding it for the first time?
Because none of my own comics had ever spawned figures up to that point, I was feeling like "this is so great!" Because in my youth I'd read comics like Tetsuwan Atom [Astro Boy] and Tetsujin 28, and made lots of figures of those characters out of clay. At first I was making things from comic books, but from the beginning I had had a sense of originality to some degree, and would make my own robots and line them up side-by-side. My brother and I used to play like that often, so having a figure on the market, and in metal that didn't break apart like clay, made me very happy.
-What was the most memorable product for you?
The ones that made me happiest were the mock-ups of the big guys. Of course, bigger is better. Because I'd been drawing this huge, moving thing I'd been thinking about, I would have felt like it should have been bigger if I'd seen a small product. Of course, I was happy just seeing it in three dimensions! I was trying to project an image of three-dimensionality in my drawing, so when I saw [the mock-up Jumbo Machinder] I thought, "Wow, so this is what it looks like," and I was really happy.
-There was a series of toys called "Jumbo Machinders." There were lots of different weapons available for them - how did that idea come about?
During the creation of Mazinger, it was looking like there'd be a lot of different kinds of enemies, so I was coming up with all sorts of ideas for weapons that Mazinger could equip to win. I was happy that these were picked up for production as toys. Also, as you might expect, when the toys are made, they're not made as just simple figures; there are various gimmicks that pop out, and I think Popy was very helpful with that. I think that I also created quite a few of the weapons after the initial release of the Mazinger Z Jumbo Machinder as well.
-It became a product name, of course, but what was the reasoning behind the name "Chogokin Z" [Super Alloy Z]?
It's because Z is the final letter of the alphabet. I wanted the name to encompass the meaning of a final weapon, and the meaning of an ultimate robot as well. There's that, and the fact that a robot like that wouldn't be made of a normal alloy, but of a special alloy -- so I simply came up with the name super-alloy -- chogokin. I wanted to come up with a convincing reason as to why the robot was so strong -- it was because the whole thing was made of this material. It was strong and couldn't be destroyed, because an alloy that hadn't previously existed was being used. And then I asked them to make the toys as a "chogokin series."
-The name chogokin has taken on a life of it's own as a toy brand name, hasn't it?
That's true. And if I had wanted to oppose it, I could have said that "hey, I made up this name!," but I didn't really care. I was happy that everyone was satisfied with it. So I don't have any problem with it.
-Mr. Nagai, all of your robots, from "Z" to "Grandizer," have fists that can fly. How did you come up with this "rocket punch" idea?
Well, it's because I'm lazy! (Laughs) It would be great to be able to grab far-away things while sitting down. Also, by shooting off your fists, you can stay in your own personal safety zone, which I thought would be appealing to kids. Because hitting someone in a fight is one thing, but within a certain range you'll get hit yourself. I thought that shooting off your fists and attacking from outside the enemy's shooting range would be really satisfying! (Laughs)
-Next, as for the "Jet Scrander," at first the toy didn't come with any wings. Did you intend for Mazinger Z to be able to fly from the start?
Yes. I had wanted to make it fly somehow, but while Mazinger Z was in initial planning, I was worried about how I would portray the sheer weight of the robot in the animation. I thought that having it prance through the air right from the intro would give the impression of the robot being lightweight, so I purposely didn't give it a wing. I ordered the staff to make the effect music heavy and use an angle looking up, and was careful about the size and weight issues. So after the image of Z being heavy had sunk in, I thought I'd try making it fly, and debuted the Scrander.
-And Great Mazinger was provided with a wing right from the start.
Yes, because it had been established in Z, hadn't it? And I wanted to come up with even more assets to give to Great Mazinger. For example, because I wanted to convey that Great Mazinger was stronger than Mazinger Z, I made it look sharper, carry swords, and things like that. Because it had become natural for Mazinger Z to fly through the air, it was established that Great Mazinger would have that capability built-in from the start. I made the craft that rides in the head a delta-wing shape, and I made the whole design have a pointed, sharp feel. I think the design itself shows that Great Mazinger is cooler than Z. But as for myself, I have deeper feelings for the Z design...
-There are those who say they prefer Mazinger Z, because Great Mazinger was too merchandise-oriented [from the start].
That's because Mazinger Z was such a hit that it was clear that
the toys would be successful. I was really conscious of how I would have to sell the next
toy. (Laughs) And as for the planning of Great, we were all somewhat surprised -- as for
myself, I'd been planning on doing Z for a while longer, and although I'd thought about a
sequel, suddenly I had a merchandising development schedule. I had to come up with a new
Mazinger design quickly, and they were hoping to have the toys within several months.
Because of this, I had to increase the pace of the story, and in latter half of the
series, Mazinger Z was steadily being defeated more and more often. I wanted to keep doing
Mazinger Z for a bit longer, though, and, for example, have Mazinger fight Mikene's
monster [translator's note: anybody have any idea what this is?] or something. (Laughs)
But I had had plans for if Mazinger Z had become popular, anyway -- I deliberately didn't
show Kabuto Koji's [the pilot of Mazinger Z] father in case I had to create a future
-And after that, you gave birth to a series of unique robots like Getta Robo and Grendizer one after another.
I designed the combination sequence in Getta Robo to maximize the advantage of animation to show what is impossible in reality. Actually, I never worried much about if it could be made into a toy or not. But I was thinking "this is completely impossible" as I came up with it, though! (Laughs)
As for Grandizer, there was an animated theatrical film called The War Against the Flying Saucers, which I didn't participate in at first, but because they couldn't decide on the design for the robot, which was called "Gattaiga," I came on board for character design halfway through. So the idea of having a robot come out of a flying saucer wasn't my own. The plan to make a television version out of that film, in the form of Grandizer, was the same concept, but completely re-worked with my designs.
-Thank you very much.
(Interview conducted October 22, 1987 in Takadanobaba, City of Tokyo.)
Thanks a lot to Matt Alt and Alen Yen for the permission to make a reprint of this article. You can visit Alen's page Toybox DX for more info.