Last October, I was lucky enough to travel to Japan and attend the Tamagawa Meeting – a yearly meet up and showcase for Tokyo area Maschinen Krieger modelers (the name comes from the nearby Tama River). Having already attended in 2015, which was also my first time in Japan, I was extremely excited to attend again.
The highlight, of course, was the incredible amount of work on display from so many talented Japanese modelers – many of whom I have admired their work from afar on social media for several years. What always strikes me is the wry, anarchic style of the Japanese Maschinen Krieger (Ma.K) community – expressionism over precision, naturalism over realism, and a total commitment to the concept at hand no matter how absurd or tongue in cheek. Whereas American model builders are typically focused on things like the right shade of Field Gray for 1944 (which isn’t an unreasonable concern if historical accuracy is the goal), the Japanese modeling community thrives much more on pushing the aesthetic envelope.
Everyone was incredibly nice despite the language barrier and although my work looked like that of a rank amateur next to theirs, I, along with the one other foreigner (a nice dude from Mexico City who builds 1/35 scale Ma.K) received a very warm welcome and a couple of thumbs up from modelers I’ve admired for a while that made me a little giddy. In the afternoon, some awards were handed out from Kow Yokoyama-sensei, the man himself, the staff of some of the larger hobby chains in Tokyo, and who I believe were the Ma.K brand managers at Wave and Hasegawa (the makers of the modern Ma.K kits). I received a nice reissue of the Nitto Fliege with new Wave decals – a wonderful prize as this kit is long out of production! A Japanese friend from the Kow Yokoyama forum who was in attendance also very graciously gave me some machined aluminum thruster bells to go with the kit (if you’ve built the Nitto kits, you know how infuriating those clamshell thruster parts can be).
Wave and Hasegawa showed off the new line of 1/35 Ma.K gashapon kits and some prototypes of the upcoming Neuspotter and Krachenvogel reissues – two eagerly anticipated reissues if the absolutely insane aftermarket prices are anything to go off of.
After the models were cleared off the tables, we decamped to a nearby BBQ restaurant where two extremely nice English-speaking modelers helped me have a wonderful chat with Kow Yokoyama about modeling, his inspiration, and the interesting history of the Ma.K universe (HUGE thank you to Mr. Kanbe from Yellow Submarine Akihabara, Mr. Shirakura, and Mr. Abe). Although the beers were flowing and the noise of the restaurant made it a little difficult to fight the language barrier, some incredibly interesting factoids were dropped by Yokoyama-sensei:
- The Ma.K movie, which was announced last year, was at one point attached to –get this– JJ Abrams.
- The Ma.K movie will be more or less separate from the “main” Ma.K universe of the models and associated ephemera, as Kow mentioned he wanted to keep a “pure” spirit of creativity in the Ma.K modeling community and not have it tied to any sort of canonical baggage that comes with a film franchise. He couldn’t elaborate more on what that meant, but I imagine that means the movie might have some sort of visual difference from the established Ma.K world.
- Speaking of film, one of the biggest inspirations on Kow was 2001: A Space Odyssey – the off-white color of the lunar lander inspired him to use the same color on many of his space type original designs such as the Fire Ball, Camel, etc.
- The power suit concept in Ma.K was a direct reaction to the mecha craze of the early 80s – Kow, apparently not a huge fan of sci-fi in anime form (I may be paraphrasing here, but he seemed to say that he didn’t find inspiration in much of Japanese sci-fi), found the big 50-foot tall robots on TV screens wholly unrealistic and wanted to create something a bit more grounded with the SAFS design.
- He did say that as a youth, he took a lot of inspiration from Thunderbirds and the support vehicles in the Ultraman series, no doubt the “suitmation” and miniatures work in those shows led to his interest in model making and scratch building!
- The overall shape and silhouette of the SAFS was inspired by the iconic Spitfire fighter plane – the rounded wing and bulging shape of the engine cover is clearly echoed in much of the Ma.K aesthetic.
- He originally studied traditional Japanese painting techniques in college, which I am not sure if it has anything to do with Ma.K, but I found extremely interesting as he also mentioned that his favorite painter and a huge influence on his artwork is legendary Tamiya box art painter Yoshiyuki Takani (who also painted that really well-known Char’s Counterattack poster and a ton of robot model kit boxes).
- Referring back to letting people be creative and the lack of a detailed canon in Ma.K, I asked Kow if Robot Battle V and Ma.K were definitively related (something I and many others in the English speaking world have wondered) and the only response I got was “Yes, but it is not really important how” – Classic!
A huge thanks to the organizers of the event, Yokoyama-sensei, our wonderful makeshift interpreters, and Kanbe-san (if you are in Akiba, you need to visit his shop, Yellow Submarine, no matter what genre of modeling you do!).
Looking forward to going back again eventually for even more Ma.K inspiration, camaraderie, and of course, more dusty secondhand Nitto kits!
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