Interviews: Kojin Ono

Translated & Interpreted by Jeremy Barlow © Soundwave's Oblivion 2022, 2023

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.

MPG Transformers
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” was born.

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 announcement!

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

Kojin Ono
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 anticipating.

-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 details!

-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 process?
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 process.

-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 with next.

-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.

Kojin Ono
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 following Trailbreaker.
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 Trainbots?
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 project.

- Was it challenging to achieve both the combination feature and maintain the expected quality of the Masterpiece line?
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 neatly organised.
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 hints.

- 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."
Translated Tech Specs
The Transformers
Other Interviews:-

- Kojin Ono

- Takashi Kunihiro

- Yuya Onishi

Back to Top; The Transformers and all its subsidiaries is a registered trademark of Hasbro and Takara Tomy