2017 marks the 30th anniversary of Max Factory, the figure manufacturing company. Their prominent “figma” brand will also be welcoming its 10th anniversary next year. In this momentous year, Max Factory will play a lead role in the Wonder Festival figure exhibition that is scheduled for July 30, and the company appears to be very motivated for the event.
Tokyo Otaku Mode had the chance to speak with Max Factory’s Yuki Takaku from the CEO room and Masafumi Kaneko from the planning department about the company’s 30th anniversary, their thoughts about Wonder Festival, and also their outlook on the future.
– Could you please give us a self-introduction?
Takaku: I’m Yuki Takaku of the CEO room, and I integrate the ideas that our CEO comes up with every day into our business plans to turn them into reality. I’m in charge of manufacturing plastic models, as well as a wide variety of products aside from figures.
Kaneko: My name is Masafumi Kaneko. I’m in charge of Bishoujo figures, especially figma.
– Can you tell us about the works and events that you’ve been a part of?
Takaku: Two that really had an impact on me are the “1/12 scale Panzer IV Ausf D” and the “Ausf H” – the ones that can carry five figmas – from Girls und Panzer, the anime series that’s celebrating its 5th anniversary this year. It was the first time for me to produce models based on real-life weapons. It was also the first time I created authentic large-scaled vehicles and those that can carry other figures. We were able to exhibit a life-size Panzer IV Ausf H replica at Wonder Festival (hereinafter WF).
Both models sold very well, and many customers went on to customize theirs and share them on the Internet. Some were made into radio-controlled vehicles, and some were made to emit smoke. I was impressed by how the customers expanded upon the playability of the models.
Kaneko: We had planned on creating the tanks for quite a while, but we couldn’t move forward with the project due to problems with the molds and other issues as well. I’m glad that Mr. Takaku was able to make everything work after he joined our company (laughs).
– How long was the production period?
Takaku: It took about three years in total including planning (laughs). We started because we wanted a display base for figmas. Mr. MAX Watanabe (CEO of Max Factory) saw the Panzer IV models that all our modelers worked together on and said, “We should mass-produce these.” When I joined the company in 2014 and was assigned to the CEO room, the CEO told me, “There’s a project that’s derailed, so I want you to take over” (laughs).
At the time, we didn’t have the know-how to create something large of out plastic. It took us a year to create a moving tank that was large and also affordable.
– This may be a little off topic, but what kind of a person is the CEO?
Takaku: Our CEO seems like someone who never rests and lives his life with the thought of enjoying hobbies constantly in his head. CEOs in normal companies tend to think about management and long-term goals, so they can’t really do anything that’s off the wall. Our CEO has a belief that probably hasn’t changed over the past 30 years, which is about how “There’s a limit to how much one can do on their own when trying to create what they want to see. So, it’s better to find partners and work together instead.” The company started off as a college team that supported MAX Watanabe in creating models. The creation process involves fine details and small steps that could be rather troublesome, so having more people means less work for everyone and more time to draw up plans for the next steps. That’s where Max Factory is said to have begun. Since they spent so much time and effort on their creations, they decided to reproduce and sell them as garage kits and soft vinyl figures.
Kaneko: I believe that our CEO’s thoughts are fundamentally based on “offering” products instead of “creating” them. He would do things such as create pre-painted soft vinyl figures – which were rare at the time – for customers who weren’t comfortable with assembling kits on their own. He has a strong desire to have people see and feel his creations that he put his efforts into.
Also, I’m under the impression that he is someone who works miracles on a regular basis (laughs).
– Thank you very much. Mr. Kaneko, could you please also tell us about the works that you’ve been a part of?
Kaneko: I was a part of the launch of the figma action figure series, which will reach its 10th anniversary next year. Development of the series took about two years to complete from 2006, which is the year I joined the company. Our first product was the figma Chouyusha Haruhi (figma Super Hero Haruhi) that was sold together with a video game in 2008.
At the time, the failure rate of action figure joints was high. They would become loose or break apart, so we decided to challenge ourselves by producing the joints in Japan and have the figures assembled in China. Together with our sculptor Masaki Asai, we worked until late at night struggling with decisions between this and that. However, our efforts allowed us to create action figures that have more stability and less stress. We continue to manufacture our joints in Japan to this day.
– Please tell us about the special website you have for your 30th anniversary.
Takaku: Our special site has multiple “question mark boxes” that will open up sequentially to reveal new information. By offering something exciting that will have visitors wondering what’s coming up next, we want to make our site a popular topic amongst our customers. We want to offer something that they can discuss and speculate upon; something that’s viral.
Kaneko: The special site will show many of our that will be officially announced at the next WF. We’ll continue to add new information, and we hope everyone’s looking forward to it. We’re not only focusing on new things, though. We’re also moving forward with a project that involves new comprehensions of older things where works from before will be replaced with new figures. We believe we’ll be able to announce it at WF.
– Could you also tell us about your campaigns?
Takaku: With the click of a button on our WF special site, visitors will be able to “praise a figure” on social media (Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter).
We plan on having visitors choose one new product that we announce during WF and create a post about their choice.
Until now, information has been flowing in one direction from us to our customers. This time, we would like our customers to share information directly with others and even to us. That’s the plan that we have.
(Comment campaign site: http://whl4u.jp/en/campaign.html)
Nowadays, people tend to think that popular anime and anime characters should naturally be made into high-quality figures. That’s why we decided to create space for discussion about figures themselves and how great they are. Such discussion will allow people to re-identify and redefine what’s great about figures, and that’s our theme for this campaign.
Through this campaign, we want to prevent WF from simply ending as an event that’s held in Makuhari in Japan. We want to increase its value even more by allowing a global audience to enjoy it while at the same time.
Receiving praise from around the world will help us increase the satisfaction rate of our customers in Japan. We want to make WF a place where messages from people in other countries can be received, and where visitors can directly learn about how different groups of people in a variety of countries are experiencing the same kinds of emotions that we are.
– Please tell us more about Max Factory’s plans for WF.
Takaku: Since it’s our 30th anniversary, we’ve decided to go for a festive atmosphere. We’ll be decorating our area with lanterns from festivals around the world, and we’ll also have a “Silent DJ Event” where visitors can listen to the DJ’s music through headphones.
As for our exhibitions, we’ll be featuring products that are a little bit different from the usual Max Factory lineup, as well as displays that will offer a glance into the future of figma, which will have its 10th anniversary next year. We’ll also have surprises of various sizes for the 30th anniversary of Max Factory.
We have plans for a talk show on stage featuring the producer of Girls und Panzer. The stage events are usually planned by GOOD SMILE COMPANY (which is in the same group as Max Factory), but this time, Max Factory will be in charge.
Kaneko: We’ll also be inviting anime song legend Ichiro Mizuki to our stage.
– What are the highlights of the exhibit and the merchandise?
Kaneko: We plan on setting up a 30th anniversary booth for WF this year where we will sell soft vinyl kits from the past, PLAMAX Kasumi, as well as other 30th anniversary items.
Takaku: We’re going to use metal molds that Max Factory used back when we made soft vinyl figures, and sell a very limited quantity of soft vinyl figures manufactured by the legendary 75-year-old soft vinyl craftsman at the time. We actually found the molds inside a cardboard box wrapped in newspaper from back in the day. They’re like artifacts from an ancient civilization (laughs).
The soft vinyl figures we have are Gamera, Steel Jeeg, and Shiranui from Mirai Ninja, which are items from the 1980s. This time, they’ll be available as unpainted kits.
Next up, we also have the plastic model kit of the DEAD OR ALIVE Kasumi figure, which is the best-selling product in the history of Max Factory.
It’s also probably the world’s first “plastic modelized figure.” We aren’t able to sell the figure anymore because the metal molds are gone, but we hope to have our customers purchase the kits and experience the history of Max Factory as they assemble them. The plastic model kits will also be available overseas.
We’ll be handing out a 1/20 scale 3D scanned figure of our CEO, MAX Watanabe, as a freebie. He’ll be in his triathlon uniform, which he’s really interested in at the moment (laughs). We’ll be handing them out at our 30th anniversary booth, and we’re currently considering the option of having a building session at our communication booth behind the anniversary items and new products. We’ll also hand out paint in two random colors so that visitors can paint their freebies on the spot (laughs).
When we grow up, we end up with fewer chances to build things and paint them. That’s why we want visitors to not only bring their models and kits home, but also experience working with them at the venue.
Kaneko: I believe that our exhibit of past products will be worth seeing. We’ll be dedicating a booth to them and have 400 figures on display. We hope it’ll become an exhibit that can make visitors feel nostalgic.
Takaku: Since we’re Max “Factory,” out exhibits will be less like museums and more like warehouses.
– A message for fans who reside overseas, please.
Takaku: Max Factory is a company that grew from a domestic amateur group over the past 30 years, and a small group of people overseas used to appreciate us as a form of “unique Japanese culture.” Now, that we have more attention and customers from around the world, it has become easier for us to see the reactions of people overseas through SNS.
From now on, we would like to develop a deeper understanding of how people overseas think, and also how they enjoy things. We don’t want to build any barriers between countries, and we’ll continue to create figures and plastic models as items that connect us with everyone overseas.
We truly appreciate your continued support!
Kaneko: Good Smile Company may be popular among fans overseas, but we also want them to know that there’s a manufacturer called Max Factory that has been around for a long time. We want to share the fun in figmas and plastic models to as many fans as we possibly can, and we think that it’s something we must do. We still haven’t been able to get the message across, so we’ll keep that as a challenge for us while we continue to create excellent products.
Takaku: We have to raise our voices to get past the language barrier and the distance that separates us. Simply translating our content won’t do. We need to share even more information, and we’d also like people overseas to tell us how they feel.
Kaneko: Not only are we planning exhibits for the 10th anniversary of figmas for next years’ WF, we’re also thinking about holding exhibitions overseas. We hope our fans are looking forward to it!
Takaku: We’d like to plan an international figma expedition when we have the chance. We’ve made two Nendoroid sets for an international expedition, but I’m not sure if we’ll be able to prepare enough figmas… (laughs).
We’d also like to interview for our CEO, MAX Watanabe, to hand down the 30 years of history that Max Factory has. After all, he’s the only one who knows it all (laughs).
Kaneko: How about interviewing him about two figures every single day…? It’ll almost be like research in ethnic studies (laughs).
– If that interview does happen, we would certainly like to post it on Tokyo Otaku Mode! Thank you very much for your time today!
Wonderful Hobby Life 4 U Gallery Site: http://whl4u.jp/wh26/gallery/en/
*Available from July 30th 9:30AM (JST)