Interviews: Kojin Ono
Translated & Interpreted by Jeremy Barlow © Soundwave's Oblivion
Interview from MPG Trainbot Raiden Book
(Packaged with MPG-03 Yukikaze)
Transformers Raiden Developer
Interview: Six outlines for MPG
In October 2021, the Raiden Project was full steam ahead after the
announcement of the first MPG. Mr Kojin Ono, a Transformers veteran who
created the original Raiden, started working on recreating the Trainbots,
“MPG”, with the use of modern technology. Who would have thought that 35
years later the Trainbots would be revived by their original creator?
Throughout this article we take a look behind the scenes to explore the
“secret birth of MPG”, known only to the development team. This vision is
unprecedented and these Transformers are only possible thanks to the
technology that has been cultivated over the years.
This is a new brand of Transformers which is an expansion to the Masterpiece
series. It is a culmination of technology under the themes of “Gattai”,
“Giant” and “Great”. The first figure selected is the Trainbot Light Speed
Commander Shouki. This was first released in 1987 under the Transformers
Headmasters series which was exclusively released to the Japanese market.
1 Memories of Raidens Creation
Ono: Raiden was originally released under the Diaclone “Real &
Robo”series and due to the influence and success of the Transformers series
in the United States, we decided to release a Transformer version of Raiden.
At the start of the original Raiden Project, I was designing a Sci-Fi train
but when I submitted the design to my boss it didn’t go down well. So I went
back to the drawing board and decided upon using an actual train. This was
also my first attempt at creating a combiner and I remember it was a steep
learning curve. Raiden was created to make it appealing to children and it
was a massive hit and it led to the subsequent “Real & Robo”
combiner robot series.
2 How did Raiden make a comeback for MPG?
Ono: Around 3 years ago we had a meeting to discuss the future of the
Masterpiece series and there was an opinion that we should make Raiden into
a Masterpiece. At the time I thought it would be difficult due to the
intellectual property rights but each of the railway companies willingly
agreed allowing us to proceed with the project. This was the first huge
project for the Masterpiece series with a 6 robot combiner and I certainly
felt the pressure. To ensure its success we created a new line so it sat
outside of the current Masterpiece series. We wanted to make this a special
product and market it to as many people as possible and as a result, “MPG”
3 What was your focus during the development of MPG?
Ono: We were determined to get the “realism” right for MPG. We had
lots of discussions with the TOMIX staff regarding the detailed
specifications of the vehicles. Since the shinkansen and standard trains
have different widths, we needed to devise a way to scale them just right so
they would not look out of place when positioned side by side. After lengthy
discussions we decided upon using the HO gauge scale. We also decided to
keep the robot modes in scale with the current Masterpiece series. However as the HO gauge is
quite large scale wise, it was a challenge to keep the robot modes in scale
with the other Masterpiece's. We
used various methods to prevent the vehicle modes from scaling down such as
increasing the number of foldable panels.
4 What are the differences between the original Raiden and the MPG Raiden?
Ono: The original Raiden used the N gauge scale and additional parts
were utilised for the combiner mode and this time around I was focused on an
integrated transformation. The fists and wings on the back of Raiden are now
recreated using an integrated transformation. The Leg Beams on both legs are
created from transforming parts of Suiken and Seizan which are scheduled for
future release. We also had to take the size of Kaen into account as the
train mode is much smaller in scale. The original Kaen came with Raiden’s
head but on this occasion we had to include the head with Yukikaze. There
are many other differences so please look out for them.
5 The future of the MPG Series
Ono: Raiden will be complete when the sixth member, Kaen, is
released. The upcoming releases of Suiken and Seizan are going to come with
Raiden’s weapons so please look out for their release. We are currently
working on the next MPG to follow Raiden. I can't tell you who this will be
yet but I’m working full steam ahead to please the fans so please await the
6 To all Transformer fans
Ono: This is the first time we have attempted a Masterpiece project
and we have aimed for the highest quality to ensure fans will be happy when
Raiden is complete. I’m looking forward to the completed product myself. I
like to share the appeal of the older trains as well as the newer shinkansen.
Thank you to all Transformer fans who have supported us, it is thanks to you
that we can bring Raiden back to life. Thank you all for the opportunity.
Kojin Ono Profile
Kojin Ono is a member of the Transformers development team. He has been
involved in toy design since the initial launch of the Transformers and he
has worked on countless Transformer toys. As a seasoned developer who worked
on the original Raiden, he is currently in charge of developing the premium
Transformers toys in Japan, including the Masterpiece series.
Interview from Figure King #303 April 2023
We are eagerly looking forward to
exploring potential collaborations in the future.
As we wrap up our interview series, we're taking a break from discussing
films and turning our attention to Kojin Ono - a true legend in the world of
MPG and collaborations which Transformer fans everywhere are eagerly
-Before we begin, could you provide us with an update on the status of
the Raiden project now it is nearing completion.
Ono ● The development of Kaen is currently underway, and we are excited to
share more information with you soon. Our goal is to provide updates in the
near future, ideally in time for the upcoming toy show. Stay tuned for more
-Tell us again how it all began.
Ono ● For a long time, I had hoped to recreate Raiden, but I had given up on
the idea since it seemed impossible to do without the support of Japanese
Rail companies, whose trains were integral to the project. However, one day,
a younger team member expressed interest in the project, and we decided to
take on the challenge. We were pleased to receive a positive response from
Japanese Rail, which gave us the go-ahead. We also approached Tomytec, our
in-house model train manufacturer, and they were happy to help. These
partnerships proved to be crucial to the project's success. Thanks to them,
we were able to imbue the MPG series with a model railway aesthetic. From
the outset, we wanted to create something that was not just an extension of
the Masterpiece series but rather something entirely new that would have a
positive impact and appeal to hobbyists.
-Can you tell us about any challenges you faced during the development
Ono ● To ensure manufacturability and compatibility, my initial approach was
to create block prototypes and carefully review each component. When I made
the Diaclone Train Robot, I designed it to be in the same size as the N
gauge style. However, for the new project, I had to consider the size
differences between the vehicles. For instance, the EF66 electric locomotive
from Getsuei is smaller in vehicle mode compared to the Yukikaze of the
Tohoku / Joetsu Shinkansen 200 Series. However, despite the size
differences, Getsuei and Yukikaze have to form the legs so we had to get
them to be the same size. The outer structure of the train required numerous
foldable sections, and we collaborated closely with the prototype company to
carefully examine and finalise the transformation gimmicks. Additionally,
Shouki plays a vital role as the centre of the body. It required both a
robust arm rotation and waist joint. We ensured that the sections where the
arms can rotate were designed well and successfully integrated the shoulder
rotation after combining with Shouki. Another challenging component was Kaen,
which is currently under development. Despite its small size, it must
support the entire upper body, making it a difficult part to design.
-It's fascinating to note that a single person has been in charge of the
MPG project, starting with Train Robo in Diaclone, followed by Raiden in
Transformers, and now its remake.
Ono ● I am deeply moved by the progress we have made. Looking back, I always
wondered what we could achieve nowadays. I'm also having fun developing the
MPG series. It's important to acknowledge that this project wouldn't have
been possible without the contributions of many people, from Yuki Oshima,
who created the preliminary sketches, to the invaluable support of the
Japanese Rail companies and Tomytec. Our junior developers also played a
crucial role in the project's success.
-Next, I would like to ask about the collaboration with Canon on the
“Canon/Transformers Optimus Prime R5.”
Ono ● We previously had the opportunity to work with G-Shock on a
collaborative product and since then, our team has been tasked with creating
a new collaboration product every year. If you remember the G-SHOCK, the
most appealing aspect was that the product itself was compatible with the
Transformers brand. In addition, the 1/1 scale aspect of the Transformers
was a major attraction, making the camera an ideal choice for a
collaboration. We also couldn't forget about Reflector (laughs). During this
time, Canon's printer division was offering colouring books to help people
enjoy their time at home during lockdown, and they asked us if they could
use Optimus Prime and Bumblebee illustrations. Since we had been discussing
a collaboration with them, I gave them the green light. This led to a
business connection and I was introduced to their camera division. It was
perfect timing, almost as if it was meant to be.
-What considerations did you have during the development process?
Ono ● Cameras are luxurious products, more so than toys. Even if we borrowed
the real camera from Canon we couldn’t give it to the prototype company as
it’s too expensive (laughs). Due to the restrictions in place, we were not
allowed to take schematics of the product off-site. Therefore, we had to
take photos of the actual model and document them thoroughly. We also paid
close attention to how we could make the surface of the camera look
authentic. We experimented with a grainy finish, which is not typically used
in toy production, and we were very particular about the black colour. The
removable lens was one of the best features of the camera, so we ensured
that it could be easily removed and incorporated into the transformation
-There was a lot of buzz surrounding the announcement of the product.
Ono ● In addition to reaching out to hobby media outlets, we also advertised
the collaboration on camera-related media. We strongly believe that
collaboration is essential to continue promoting Transformers in the future,
and we are excited to see who we will have the opportunity to collaborate
-Finally, what are your expectations for “Transformers: Beast Awakening”?
Ono ● When I saw the trailer, I got goosebumps. I'm really excited for the
action scenes, which are the main appeal of these movies. I enjoyed
Bumblebee and I'm expecting even better things from the upcoming film. I'd
also like to recommend the Pa! Pa! Pa! Change Optimus Primal figure. You
really have to hold it in your hands to appreciate how great it is, and I'm
sure you'll love the transformation. We're also planning to release more
Beast Awakening figures that will be exclusive to Japan, so please stay
tuned for those.
He joined the company in 1980 and later became a part of the Transformers
team after working on Diaclone and Microman. He is widely regarded as a
legend in the field of transforming robot toys, having worked on numerous
iconic products. Despite being the oldest developer in the team, he
continues to contribute to projects with his skills and expertise, including
the development of Masterpiece figures and various collaborative projects.
Interview from Hero-X Transformers Generations 2023 (July 2023)
Interview #2 Masterpiece Project: Kojin Ono
- Hoist is
I believe many people expected Hoist to be a redeco, but Masterpiece
Trailbreaker recreates the tall cartoon design. In contrast, Hoist has a
shorter and stockier design. To achieve this difference, I consulted with
Ohshima (Yuki) san, who sketched several designs for comparison.
- Especially in the robot mode, the overall shape
suggests that several parts could be reused.
As the developer, I had the authority to highlight the distinctions between
these two figures, considering they are Masterpieces. In actuality, we
designed a substantial number of new parts. The vehicle mode posed
unexpected challenges in terms of reusability. Specifically, the door
windows and roof for Trailbreaker and Hoist are significantly different.
- Even though they are based on the same toy model,
they were designed with completely different approaches.
That's correct (laughs). It was Ohshima-san's idea that we should emphasise
these distinctions. Thus, we approached the prototype maker to accomplish
the seemingly impossible during the development process.
- Similarly, the underlift on the towing device is
also based on the cartoon, not the toy design, isn't it?
Yes, it's the way it appears in the cartoon. The Masterpiece has faithfully
recreated this design.
- The optional accessories are also an attraction
to recreate scenes from the cartoon.
Indeed, you can enjoy playing with the "evil alien mask," the hammer, and
spanner. If you are involved in maintenance, these types of tools are a
must. Additionally, there were two different face designs that appeared in
various episodes, and we made sure to recreate both of them. The figure
comes with the cool face attached, but Ohshima-san prefers the charming face
design (laughs). Furthermore, we included the grapple attachment at Ohshima-san's
request. This figure not only allows you to use it as seen in the show but
also offers a Masterpiece-style interpretation, allowing you to utilise it
as a back support when firing the heat-seeking missiles from his arm.
- The goal of completing the Autobots (Car Robots)
is finally within reach. I'm certain there are many fans eagerly
anticipating a certain "Beast Awakening" car design.
There are still many Car Robots that haven't been released in the
Masterpiece series, including the Minibots. We have several ideas on how we
can achieve this, although I can't reveal much at the moment. However, when
you see "Beast Awakening," you might find yourself saying, "if they can
release that car model, that means...!" I certainly hope so (laughs)! As we
approach the 40th anniversary next year, please keep an eye out for future
developments. Having a supporting character like Hoist in the Masterpiece
lineup is a step towards including more G1 characters in the series, and I
hope this will pique people's interest in seeing even more iconic characters
join the lineup.
- Can you please tell us about the six MPG
This project, which has been in the works for around four years now, has
genuinely touched me. At the 2023 Tokyo Toy Show, I stood in the booth to
explain the product, and people's reactions were remarkable. They were
amazed, saying things like, "This train can transform and combine!?" It
brings me immense joy to see that this project has received an even greater
response compared to the days of Diaclone and Headmasters.
- How was the collaboration with TOMIX and how did
the Japanese Rail Companies react?
Since I didn't have much knowledge about railroads, they provided invaluable
assistance. G1 Kaen was a rather vague representation of a diesel
locomotive, but with the collaboration of JR Tokai, its design matches with
an existing vehicle. The design is “this shape” as it is based on a specific
vehicle number. Our aim was not to disappoint railroad fans with this
- Was it challenging to achieve both the
combination feature and maintain the expected quality of the Masterpiece
Initially, we created a block prototype to check the balance and ensure that
it could stand on its own in combined form. However, at that stage, not
everything was finalised, but we continued with the development process.
Despite Kaen being smaller than the other trains, he becomes the waist where
the entire load is concentrated after the combination. This configuration
raised some concerns, and we carefully considered whether it was the right
approach to proceed with.
- Unlike the original G1 version the head and
thighs come with the other trains because Kaen is so small.
If the same configuration was used for this project it would lead to
structural limitations. Therefore we equipped the head with Yukizaze as the
Shinkansen type train has plenty of room and the thighs were allocated to
the two relevant trains. In the discussions with the prototype maker, there
was a proposal to have Kaen's robot mode formed by unassembling the vehicle
mode to facilitate the combination. However, we were adamant that Kaen
should not require unassembling, as it should also function as a stand-alone
figure. In combined form, you can equip the robot with the Raiden Cannon to
evoke the image of Fortress Maximus.
- Who proposed that Seizan and Suiken would have
optional parts for Raiden?
During the design process, I decided to include the Train Bazooka with
Suiken, who forms the left arm, and the sword with Seizan, as he forms the
right arm. Ohshima-san pondered the reason for including the word "train" in
the Train Bazooka, leading us to the idea of making it three connected
weapons, resembling how trains are linked together.
- The coupling of the 6 trains in vehicle mode is
This was a key aspect we emphasised right from the beginning. During the
initial planning stage, we communicated to the prototype maker our intention
to have all 6 trains linked up together. At the same time, we made a
decision to change the size of the rails between the Shinkansen and the
conventional trains to achieve a more realistic railroad look. Despite the
rails being different in size, each train can still connect with one another
and be displayed together.
-Was a silhouette of a future product announced at
the 2023 Tokyo Toy Show?
Fans will always speculate, "Whose head is that?" and "Whose chest is that?"
Wondering about the owners of these parts might provide them with a few
- Didn’t the Diaclone Train Robo have a redeco?
We know a few people are expecting to see a “Special Limited Colour”
version. However, as the MPG series works on recreating trains to appear as
actual model trains, it would be quite difficult to release a chrome plated
Shinkansen or a translucent diesel locomotive (laughs). It’s difficult to
change the colour and say it's a different train model. On the other hand if
we think of this series as a format, we may be able to create a new train
and replace them with each other. This unique “linking” concept can only be
done on the railroad.
- Indeed, it seems that introducing new Trainbots
is not impossible. So, how about expanding the MPG series beyond trains?
We are constantly contemplating our next steps. I invite you to ponder who
might embody the three G's of MPG: "GATTAI," "GIANT," and "GREAT."