INTERVIEW

Recently we have seen many properties celebrating anniversaries, and Namco (Bandai Namco Entertainment, henceforth “BNE”) is no exception, as in 2020 we proudly pay tribute to 40 years of the popular videogame “PAC-MAN”!

To honor this anniversary year, TAMASHII NATIONS is releasing physical figures of PAC-MAN under three different brands: S.H.Figuarts, PROPLICA, and Chogokin. These three items were revealed at the recent TAMASHII NATION 2020 event, but what are their charms and features? We asked Mr. Ayumu Aizawa at the BANDAI SPIRITS Collectors division, to break it down for us.

PAC-MAN 40th Anniversary Item

—These items were initially planned to commemorate the 40th anniversary of PAC-MAN, but could you tell us more specifically how this project all came about?
Aizawa: As a whole, Bandai Namco Entertainment has always taken advantage of its position as a conglomerate, and done tie-ins with videogame properties. In particular, with the Gundam series, they have often brought out lines of Gundam product to tie in with the videogames. So, since it was PAC-MAN’s 40th anniversary, I began to wonder if something along those lines would be possible with that property under the TAMASHII NATIONS label.
—Speaking of PAC-MAN, it is a popular game character that was born in the 1980s.
Aizawa: As it happened, there was a member in our team that had been transferred over from BNE, who showed me a report outlining what types of properties were popular. In it, it was clear that PAC-MAN still has incredible recognition in the US today. When I was simply eyeing the Japanese market, I had a few qualms, thinking, “perhaps people won’t really be so interested in this...” But when we considered that TAMASHII NATIONS is truly a brand with worldwide appeal that has fans all around the globe, and that people overseas will surely be excited for this, we in the team quickly became impassioned. At that moment I took on the project as a challenge, and I stepped up to take the helm as project manager with an energetic, “I’ll do it!” As a result, the first idea I came up with was this “PROPLICA WAKA WAKA PAC-MAN”.
—At first glance it looks like a regular display model, but it is indeed a “PROPLICA” item, correct?
Aizawa: The one I have right here is a prototype with the all the gimmicks omitted from it, but on the real thing when you move PAC-MAN forward, his mouth actually does the “WAKA WAKA” open-and-close action, complete with the sound effects from the game.
—So it’s even got sound gimmicks, too!
Aizawa: Yes, it has the “game start” sound from the beginning, and the “waka waka” sounds. As you continue moving him, it goes into “ghost chasing mode,” as if he had just eaten a power pellet. And if you keep moving him even further, then you can hear the “coffee break music.” So you can really feel like you are stepping into the world of the game from back in the day with this item.
—Truly this is the perfect rendition of PAC-MAN as he appeared in the first arcade game.
Aizawa: Yes, I thought it would be fun to try to take the concept of a 2D sprite from the arcade game that moves around frantically, turn it into a real 3D object, and then add gimmicks to make it more like a toy. I wanted to make a toy that would allow the user to “become” PAC-MAN, and enter the world of the game, and so that’s why I chose the PROPLICA branding. In the past, there were other items such as radio-controlled versions, but I really want the user experience to be more direct, more immersive, so as to feel like they are stepping into the world of PAC-MAN from back in the day.

S.H.Figuarts and Chogokin

—So how about the “S.H.Figuarts PAC-MAN”?
Aizawa: I was thinking that there were two co-existing versions of PAC-MAN in the users’ minds: the original version which has “no arms and legs,” and the version from “Pac-Land,” which “has arms and legs.” When I thought about these two approaches, I concluded that the users would likely be surprised and be pleased that the version with arms and legs would also be represented in the lineup.
—It’s simple, but actually it seems quite poseable.
Aizawa: Yes, we made it into an action figure using the accumulated expertise of the S.H.Figuarts brand. We made sure to give it enough of a range of motion that wasn’t going to ruin the proportions or the form of the character, incorporated a sliding mechanism into the leg joints, and made sure the knees also have a full bend. I believe we have produced a great item that makes the most of all the articulation engineering of the brand until now. I really hope that figure collectors will add this one to their roster and enjoy them. Extra parts include swappable faces and hands, as well as the Cherries and a Ghost from the arcade version, so there is a lot of “play value” in this package.
—Next, could you please explain the “Chogokin PAC-MAN”?
Aizawa: Yes, as a Chogokin-branded item, this one is very emblematic of TAMASHII NATIONS products, isn’t it? The main body is made out of die-cast metal, so without going as far as saying it’s a long-standing tradition, it does indeed carry a very satisfying heft when in hand. We really prioritized “the feel of a robot” that you get when you play with it.
—When you say, “the feel of a robot,” is there a backstory for this?
Aizawa: Our starting point in the development stage is, “What if... PAC-MAN was a robot?” We have included a mini figure that can actually sit inside and pilot the Chogokin PAC-MAN robot. The fists can also be fired out, so we really want people to treat it as a toy.
Aizawa: The included Ghosts have also been designed to look a bit like robots. Plus, there is a gimmick where they can even be attached to the arms and used as punches. I thought it would be a fun idea if the Ghosts, once enemies, teamed up with PAC-MAN to fight together against a common foe [Laughs]. Also, the legs split to transform into a vehicle mode. I really wanted to include a very on-brand Chogokin-style transformation gimmick that’s just like old times. There are other more subtle features, such as the eyes being able to change. It is a PAC-MAN themed product, but by combining it with the Chogokin brand, you get the best of both worlds: its outwardly cute appearance, as well as the sense of weight when you pick it up, so it is a fun item to play with.

Why people love PAC-MAN

—Frankly speaking, why do you think people love PAC-MAN so much?
Aizawa: It’s the 40th anniversary of PAC-MAN, which means it’s a character that’s older than I am. Obviously, I didn’t grow up playing the game, but I certainly did know it. It’s something that transcends the concept of a “game character,” PAC-MAN is more like a design icon. It is cute, relatable, something that can really blend well with our everyday lives. The jacket I’m wearing today also has a PAC-MAN design... This one actually belongs to me, though! [Laughs]
—Yes, it’s clearly distinct from other “character apparel” items, it really doesn’t seem out of place from “normal” wear.
Aizawa: It’s catchy, in a way that it’s now like a deeply-rooted part of our culture. I believe that’s why even now, 40 years on, the character has remained ubiquitous among people regardless of gender, age, and even nationality.
—I’ve even heard PAC-MAN’s popularity described as “Mickey Mouse for the 80s.”
Aizawa: Oh, no doubt about it. The design is really simple. But it leaves a strong impression because of the way the colors are used. He’s round and just gobbles stuff up, and that’s all you need for everyone to recognize it’s PAC-MAN.
—It is said that the original design idea came from the image of a pizza.
Aizawa: Yes, apparently that’s what PAC-MAN’s creator, Toru Iwatani, has said. Currently he lectures at universities, and I really want him to take a look at these items. It is, after all, the 40th anniversary year. I really want the PAC-MAN excitement to take off in a big way.

Sentiments on the three brands

—Once again, what are the key points of each of the three items?
Aizawa: For the PROPLICA, we really want people to play with and enjoy the real thing. It looks sort of trendy, too, so I think you can also display it as part of your interior design to liven things up. The Chogokin and S.H.Figuarts items can go around your desk as decoration pieces. All three items were unveiled at TAMASHII NATION 2020, and the S.H.Figuarts and Chogokin in particular had a huge response. On the other hand, I feel that I didn’t really manage to get across the gimmicks and features of the PROPLICA. I hope that with this interview I managed to get everyone to see the cool aspects of all three items. Also, I tried my best to keep the prices to ¥3,850 (tax incl.) for the PROPLICA, and ¥2,420 (tax incl.) for the S.H.Figuarts.
—Lastly, is there anything you would like to say to the users?
Aizawa: I hope these items reach the hands of many different people around the world, not just Japan. With this three-item lineup, we are trying to appeal to various types of users and fans with a wide variety of interests. I feel that rather than attempting to make individual short bursts of interesting things, it’s much more fun to have it all come up at once [Laughs]! I’m happy if people pick any one of these up on their own, but I think putting all three together would really pop even more. PAC-MAN is a familiar and relatable character, and his simplicity is one of his charms. I’d be thrilled if both figure fans and people who don’t really collect figures but know PAC-MAN would pick these items up.
—Thank you very much.

PAC-MAN™&©BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment Inc.

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