- The Movement of a Feline, And The Weight of a Zoid!

AZ-01 Blade Liger Developer Interview

 This page includes a rough translation of Hobby Watch's Developer Interview with Zoids developer Takashi Nakase. The interview takes a look at the AZ-01 Blade Liger released during April 2023, and provides some interesting insights into the development process of these toys.

* Disclaimer: Please be advised that this page relies on machine translations, and may contain mistakes! It's only provided for those who would like to get the gist of what's being said, and shouldn't be used as a citation.

- Introduction

The Ever-Evolving Series, New Projects Underway!?

AZ-01 Blade Liger
On Sale April 29th
Price: 11,000 yen (tax included)
Target Age: 15 years or older
Batteries Used: AAA Alkaline Battery x2 (sold separately)
Size: Approximately 110 mm (width) x 175 mm (height) x 380 mm (length)

- Interview

 Takara Tomy will be releasing the moving model kit "AZ-01 Blade Liger" on April 29th. This product commemorates the 40th anniversary of the "Bio-Machine Zoids" series started by Takara Tomy (then Tomy) in 1983.

 Zoids are metal life forms based on animal motifs, featuring not only mammals such as lions and wolves, but also dinosaurs, insects, and various other motifs. The Blade Liger being commercialized this time is the lion-type Zoid that played an active role in the 1999 anime Zoids.

 Moving kits are a genre of products that is unique to Zoids. The products aren't already-assembled items like action figures but are instead assembled by the user. The greatest aspect of Zoids is their movement. By incorporating motors, springs, and other powering mechanisms into Zoids, users can create "Metal Life Forms" that not only look good, but also move with ease. Zoids, which aren't humanoid in shape, but have the appearance and movement of the animals that they're based on have gained a unique fan base.

 We spoke with Mr. Takashi Nakase, an expert in the Hobby Character Business Department of Takara Tomy's Character Business Division, who was in charge of the AZ-01 Blade Liger. Mr. Nakase was also interviewed for the MPZ-01 Shield Liger, the predecessor of this product. We hope that you'll read that as well.

Mr. Takashi Nakase, an expert in the Hobby Character Business Department of Takara Tomy's Character Business Headquarters, is in charge of the AZ-01 Blade Liger.

  Further Reading:MPZ-01 Shield Liger Interview (December 2015) (Offsite link)

- Part 1

The AZ-01 Blade Liger, which returns to the origin of Zoids presents a new future

— To get started, please tell us why you chose the AZ-01 Blade Liger moving kit to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Zoids.

Nakase: Zoids is celebrating its 40th anniversary, but I think that Zoids fans are made up of various generations. Broadly speaking, there are two types of fans: The first group are those who've been fans since the Bio-Machine Beasts Zoids moving kits of the 1980s, which I also loved and which motivated me to join Takara Tomy (which was known as Tomy at the time.) Then there was the group that started with the 1999 anime "Zoids." This product is aimed at fans of this anime.

 The Zoids fans from 1999 are now adults, and it's time for them to look back at what they loved. For them, we decided to use the Blade Liger, which played an active role in the Zoids anime, as the motif for this product. The Blade Liger is a reborn and evolved version of the Shield Liger, the main character of the series. We decided to go with the Blade Liger as the first commemorative product for the 40th anniversary.

The AZ-01 Blade Liger is based on the main character Blade Liger from the 1999 anime Zoids. It's the evolved form of the Shield Liger, which was destroyed in the show.

— Is the moving kit, AZ-01 Blade Liger, an updated version of the Blade Liger that was released at the time that the anime was aired, or is it a completely new product?

Nakase: It'll be a completely new product separate from the Blade Liger released at the time that the anime aired. In terms of the design, it has some parts in common with the MPZ-01 Shield Liger, one of the Masterpiece Zoids released in 2016. Just as with the old product, where the Shield Liger was updated to the Blade Liger, this product will be an update of the MPZ-01 Shield Liger.

This is the Blade Liger released when the anime aired.

The MPZ-01 Shield Liger, released in 2016.

— What was the theme or concept for the product at that time, and how were those things applied to the new AZ-01 Blade Liger?

Nakase: Our goal with the MPZ-01 Shield Liger was to recreate the silhouette and movements of a carnivorous beast. The main feature of Zoids is that they "walk" (move) using a spring or motor. However, many Zoids of the past, which strived to represent realistic creatures, had a wider style when viewed from the front.

 In the 1999 anime Zoids, which was the beginning of full-fledged CG animation and the first to express Zoids' movements through CG, the Zoids were designed with enough clearance to prevent the CG parts from getting stuck in the body. This style looked more like lizards with limbs growing out of the sides of their bodies than actual cats. This also looked cool, though, for the proportions of Zoids.

 However, as you can see from the dogs and cats around you, the shoulders are typically narrow and the legs connect to the torso line. From the front, they look tall and narrow. The concept of the MPZ-01 Shield Liger was to create the standing and walking posture of a lion.

 For the 2016 MPZ-01 Shield Liger, we started the project from the point of view of "facing the history of Zoids." Although we've accumulated a lot of know-how, we wanted to "recreate the silhouette of the animal as closely as possible." We studied the movements of lions and achieved a frame that recreated the lion's walking posture for the MPZ-01 Shield Liger. For the AZ-01 Blade Liger being released this time we'll use this know-how about recreatng a lion's natural movement, which is unique to Zoids, and that'll be the starting off point for the product design.

 For this reason we didn't try to recreate the anime proportions for the AZ-01 Blade Liger. In addition to further exploring the "expression of a lion's proportions and walking style" created through the MPZ-01 Shield Liger, the idea was to incorporate the image of the Blade Liger from the anime, including elements that were desired by fans.

 The AZ-01 Blade Liger as a product doesn't perfectly recreates the memories from the anime. It was a challenge to figure out how to express the Blade Liger as a "moving kit", which has been inherited from Tomy and evolved through Takara Tomy. This product will is based on the theme of recreating the lion-type Zoid, the Blade Liger, using modern technology.

— Recently, other companies have been selling figures and plastic models based on the Zoids theme. However, since Takara Tomy is also releasing Zoids, do you want to focus on their movement?

Nakase: Yes, Takara Tomy believes that the "Moving Kit" element is essential. We were able to present a basic skeleton for the lion-type Zoid with the MPZ-01 Shield Liger.

 We'd also like people to pay attention to how this evolution progresses on the anime side of things. There've been several Zoids animes produced since then. In particular, with the Zoids Wild anime in 2018 and Zoids Wild Zero in 2019, the movements of the Zoids were conscious of real-life animals. The expression of Zoids has evolved in anime as well, including their power and how to add details, such as Wild Blast, which effectively incorporates toy-like gimmicks and animation effects.

 Then there's the technology accumulated through Takara Tomy's Zoids Wild products. We've taken advantage of these technologies to create the AZ-01 Blade Liger. For us, this product evolved along with the anime, and then returned to its roots as a "Moving Kit."

The AZ-01 Blade Liger is intended for ages 15 and up, and has a very fine expression of details.

— The AZ-01 Blade Liger is a product that evolved from the MPZ-01 Shield Liger, which could be said to be the base technology, so what major changes does it have in terms of movement?

Nakase: The mechanisms aren't the same between the two products, and we've made new modifications in various areas. The biggest point is that the Shield Liger has two motors, but this time, we use one motor to cover all of its movements.

 The 2016 MPZ-01 Shield Liger was equipped with two motors. It also had built-in sound circuitry. It used switch-controls to achieve various actions, including a head-swinging roar. Since switches were added to the gears and links to control the movements, the mechanisms got more complicated, and with a sound unit also included, the price increased. This time, the sound system was removed and the mechanisms were simplified to a singular motor. This has led to changes in the internal design and gimmicks.

 One of the challenges with this simplification was that the chest and tail wouldn't move anymore. In the Shield Liger, the neck and tail were moved by sub-motors. We really wanted to include the movement of the chest and tail in the Blade Liger, so we made a mechanism to move them by connecting to links.

 The AZ-01 Blade Liger uses a singular motor to cover a variety of movements during walking, including moving the legs, the chest, the spine, the jaw, and the tail. For this reason, we were able to achieve the same level of action when it comes to walking as the MPZ-01 Shield Liger, which had an additional motor.

— I'd also like to look at the style after hearing your story. It has a sleek, vertical silhouette, as if the limbs are somehow tucked into the torso, just like an actual feline.

Nakase: I'd also like you to see the 'long torso' appearance from the side. Animal silhouettes have a long torso when viewed from the side. The products released at the time of the anime had short torsos, giving them a somewhat cute silhouette. Real animals also have this kind of long torso look.

The skeleton of a real lion was used as a reference for development.

 However, when simply comparing the two, please note that the target age for the products during the time that the anime aired was 6 years old, while the AZ-01 Blade Liger is aimed at 15 years or older. The sharpness of the parts, the details depicted, and the durability of the design are all inevitably limited by having a younger target audience. We also have to consider the damage caused when products are dropped. Products designed for a target audience of 6 year olds are designed to be harder to crack instead of just being easier to dislodge parts from. The AZ-01 Blade Liger has fewer restrictions like this and so we could incorporate plenty of elaborate mechanical details.

The AZ-01 Blade Liger has a longer torso balance.

The 1999 Blade Liger has a short torso, giving it a cuter balance.

— Then let's see it in motion.

Nakase: The AZ-01 Blade Liger comes with a pedestal, and by displaying it on it, you can watch the walking movement without having to put it on the floor. In fact, if it's walking on the floor, you can't really see the details. (laughs)

 When placed on the pedestal, though, you can take a closer look at how each part of the figre operates. You can see that various parts are moving, such as the belly and the base of the chest and legs. Not only do the eyes glow, but the Zoid Core in the chest also glows.

Takara Tomy puts the AZ-01 Blade Liger on its pedestal to check the details of its movement!

 Next, let's make him walk on the table. You'll be able to get a good look at the way that it walks while stepping on the ground. The highlight of which is that the top of the paw rises before landing on the ground, just like in a real animal.

Takara Tomy's AZ-01 Blade Liger walking with a sense of weight.

— The way that it walks gives me'an animal stalking its prey' impression. I'm sure there were lots of options like walking and running figures, so what kind of image did you have in mind for this product?

Nakase: With the MPZ-01 Shield Liger, which was the basis for this product, I focused on the theme of 'how to reproduce the walking motion of animals.' I used to like going to the zoo, but during the development of this product, I went there even more often and closely observed the animals. When it comes to the cat family, lions do nothing but sleep, so tigers and other animals were more helpful to me, and I focused on whether or not I could recreat this movement of slightly raising the front legs and then lowing them to the ground.

 Another thing I was keenly aware of was the stride length. I also focused on reproducing the motion of the feet thrusting forward and landing on the ground with as long of a stride as possible. The Zoids' movements seem as if they're sinking into the ground, which gives them a sense of 'weight' as Zoids. After all, Zoids are actually huge mechas that can accommodate human passengers, with this one being a total length of 25.9 meters, so we designed the movement with consideration to its weight.

 We've also received requests from customers who want to see a running Zoid. We've made prototypes, but what we imagine and the actual movement just don't line up. When we really try to make them run, they end up moving in a dizzying, jerking motion, like a dog rolling around on the floor. We can't find a cool balance.

 The anime Zoids move gracefully, as if they're swimming through the air, but you can't make them run like that with an actual moving kit. Slow motion movements, such as stretching their bodies in mid-air, are difficult to achieve in reality. That's why we use the movement of walking firmly at a certain speed.

 As a side note, we added the pedestal so that you could see the Blade Liger moving in full motion, but we'd really like you to have a drink while watching the Zoid move. Watch how each part moves and grin at all of the elaborate movements. I hope it's a simple thing that everyone can enjoy. I'd like for you to try really looking at the movement of the entire body in motion as it sits on the pedestal, like how spine and chest move, which are hard to see just by watching it walk.

— I understand that the AZ-01 Blade Liger incorporates not only the movements that've evolved in previous Zoids products, but also many other elements for fans who like the anime Blade Liger.

Nakase: We also included gimmicks that are conscious of the Blade Liger's anime representation, such as the deployment of each blade and the booster jutting out.

 The two-seater cockpit is particularly impressive. The hero, Bang, and the heroine, Fine, are seated in the cockpit. The hatch is more open than the original model to make it easier to accommodate the two passengers. The size of the product is 1/72, so the figures are tiny, but it's a very special part of the product.

 The Blade Liger also has 'eyes' molded into the figure. This is a new interpretation of the figure, which hasn't been seen in previous products. The Pulse Laser Guns attached to the Laser Blades also have a sliding gimmick at the base so that the muzzle of the gun extends forward when it's rotated forwards. This is another improvement for fans of the anime. There were shooting scenes in the anime as well, even if the muzzle of the gun didn't point forward this far. It's a gimmick made for consistency.

A cockpit for two passengers. Note the molding of the eyes.

This is the Blade Liger as it was presented when the anime aired. There are no sculpted eyes.

 This is a bit of a spoiler, but when we commercialized the MPZ-01 Shield Liger, we also made a prototype of the Blade Liger as part of the lineup. The project was put to bed, so to speak, and was completly reviewed again this time for commercialization. The telescoping gimmick for the firing stance was noted in this review, and I think we were able to express it in a more convincing way.

 We also adjusted the coloring and color balance overall. We considered the ratio of blue to white and how it should look in order to make it even closer to how it looks in the anime. The coloring and paint scheme are also points to note, such as the springs in the legs. The AZ-01 Blade Liger is a moving kit that needs to be assembled, but some parts are painted as well as molded in color, so just by assembling it, you can create an image that looks close to the anime.

The gimmick of pointing the Pulse Laser Gun attached to the Laser Blades forward.

An extending gimmick has been added to the arm.

The overall coloring is also a point of interest.

Zoids Is Evolving With Feedback From Zoids Wild

— The AZ-01 Blade Liger is an assembly kit, but is the user supposed to remove parts from the runners and assemble it like a plastic model?

Nakase: The Zoids series are basically assembly-type moving model kits, but the balance of assembly changes from time to time; the Zoids Wild series that we rolled out starting in 2019 has a target age range of 6 years and up, so we focused on ease of assembly. When you open the box, the parts are already separated, one by one, and the runners have been eliminated. The parts aren't numbered, and are presented clearly with pictures so that children as young as 6 years old can assemble them.

 The AZ-01 Blade Liger, which is intended for ages 15 and up, is a plastic model that's assembled by detaching parts from runners and following the assembly instructions. The parts are carefully divided, and must be assembled in the correct order after carefully reading the instructions. The amount of detail and the sharpness of the molded parts is also worth noting. By the way, no adhesives are used during assembly. You'll need a screwdriver to insert batteries and tools such as nippers to separate parts from the runners.

The package is cool in its simplicity.

The interior of the package is stuffed with runners.

The parts are large and easy to assemble, but the density of the details is still high.

— The parts are very detailed, but is there anything particular about the molding of the parts?

Nakase: We're also conscious of the weight of each part to ensure that it can move, and some parts have been stripped of their flesh, but we also have to consider their consistency as a mechanism. We're trying to create a persuasive design. The mane parts also serve as heat-dissipating fins, so by removing the meat of the parts, we've made them thinner and incorporated that into the design to improve heat dissipation efficiency.

— Did you encounter any difficulties during the production process?

Nakase: When we were developing the MPZ-01 Shield Liger, we came up with the idea of a gimmick for the Blade Liger that would allow it to deploy its blades while walking. However, although they opened, they stayed opened. If we'd tried to include a gimmick for storing the blades again, it would've been too complicated, so this idea was scrapped.

 However, the idea of deploying and storing weapons while walking was used in Zoids Wild, where it was incorporated into the Wild Blast 'special move' gimmick that was included with each product along with its walking movement, which allowed us to accumulate more experience in designing such mechanisms. We were able to apply this design know-how to the AZ-01 Blade Liger.

 Another expression inherited from the MPZ-01 Shield Liger and Zoids Wild is the presence of 'bone' details in the AZ-01 Blade Liger. When you remove some of the armor from the AZ-01 Blade Liger, like the face armor, you can see the underlying skeleton. The original Zoids didn't have the idea of an internal skeleton.

By removing the armor, the internal frame structure can be seen.

The removal of the meat of the part makes them more convincing as heat-dissipation fins.

Blade Liger with a wide range of motion.

 The idea came from the Liger Zero, which appeared in the 2001 anime Zoids New Century /ZERO. Liger Zero can be customized by changing its armor, and a Wild Liger Zero without any equipment has also appeared before. It was here that the idea of a 'frame / body' was incorporated into Zoids. Then, could the concept of the body frame be retroactively added back into the Shield Liger, which was designed before Liger Zero? We developed the specifics for the MPZ-01 Shield Liger with this idea in mind.

 When developing the MPZ-01 Shield Liger, we designed its internal skeleton, then created a design that covered it with armor. For Zoids Wild, we took this idea even further and came up with the idea of 'excavating' Zoids in their skeletal state and adding armaments to them for use as weapons. The head and other parts of the AZ-01 Blade Liger are also expressed as an internal skeleton to which armor is added. You could say that this is a product where you can truly experience the evolution of Zoids.

— When I hear you talking about it, it seems like Zoids Wild has brought various evolutions to Zoids development.

Nakase: The idea of the skeleton (frame) with exterior parts used in Zoids Wild brought us a lot of ideas for 'ease of assembly.' The gimmicks are linked to the frame, so there were many ideas for designing parts to take advantage of those gimmicks.

 I think it was also good that we were able to stimulate children's 'interest in science' in terms of the skeleton and movement. For Zoids Wild, we were particular about the packaging, excavating the skeleton (frame) from the geological formation-inspired packaging, assembling it, and attaching the exterior parts. We followed the process of excavating and restoring dinosaur fossils, and incorporated some ingenuity in the packaging.

 The AZ-01 Blade Liger also neatly utilizes the know-how gained from the MPZ-01 Shield Liger and Zoids Wild. Beyond this, the world of Zoids will expand even further.

— Once again, I have the impression that the AZ-01 Blade Liger isn't a remake of a product from the time, but a Blade Liger expressed with the latest Zoids technology, and the latest Zoid presented by Takara Tomy.

Nakase: The AZ-01 Blade Liger has different proportions from the anime. However, I hope that the gimmicks and coloring will give the viewer a solid sense of the anime Blade Liger, and that they'll feel that its been updated from there.

 This isn't a remake, but rather an attempt to not only retrace the memories of those times, but to express the Blade Liger with 'current Zoids technology,' which is something we were particular about. At the time, CG animation was still in its infancy, and the number of polygons was lower than it is today. If we were to express the Blade Liger using today's CG technology, would it be the AZ-01 Blade Liger that was moving across the screen? We created this figure with such thoughts and dreams in mind.

 As a person in charge of Zoids I also supervise licensed products. Blade Liger is a very popular character, with both figures and plastic models having been released, but I have the impression that the 'three-dimensional Blade Liger from the anime' has reached a certain point.

 The AZ-01 Blade Liger gives an idea of what kind of updates can be realized only by Takara Tomy, which has the unique aspect of 'moving' kits.

Part Two

Aiming For The Walking Action That Can Only Be Realized By Takara Tomy

— Last time I had the opportunity to interview you about Kabuto Borg, and I felt that you'd put a lot of effort into the movement and the exciting behavior of the mecha. I get the impression that Takara Tomy focuses a lot on the movement and the loops that come from it.

Nakase: We're a toy manufacturer. We're always thinking about the fun and enjoyment that children feel. Of course there's movement, but for Transformers, for example, we focus on the tactile feel that children experience when playing with them, such as the clicking sensation and the tight adjustments. We're always thinking about where the fun lies as a toy and how to make it even more enjoyable. We cherish the excitement that makes them feel like "The toy in my hand has tremendous power!"

 The same goes for the weight of the walking movement, though 'not being lightweight' may be a common denominator for cool toys. When it comes to the AZ-01 Blade Liger, you can feel as if it's the movement of a huge mechanical life form just by watching it walk, and it has a sense of dynamics that makes it feel as if it were alive. The image of the Blade Liger from the anime will be replaced with the AZ-01 Blade Liger, and we're aiming to make the memories even cooler.

 The only function of the AZ-01 Blade Liger toy is to walk (laughs). However, what we're aiming for isn't 'functionality' but 'reality.' We're thinking about the speed at which it walks, how far its joints sink under the weight of its entire body as it moves, how its chest beats, how its spine moves, and how to use the overall movement to make people feel that it's "real."

 ... Actually, that's why it's so hard to adjust the gait (laughs). Right up until this interview, we've been working on the walking balance of our next work, the AZ-02 Liger Zero.

— The AZ-01 Blade Liger is the first commemorative product of the Zoids 40th Anniversary. Please tell us about future products.

Nakase: The second product, the AZ-02 Liger Zero, will be released in September. The main feature of this one is that a button battery is inserted into the claw parts to make the claws glow. Since the battery and light-emitting circuit are in the claw part, it's heavy, so it was difficult to adjust the balance. We're also planning the AZ-03 Murasame Liger and even the Liger Zero Phoenix. A prototype of the AZ-03 Murasame Liger has just been uploaded.

The AZ-02 Liger Zero is scheduled to be released in September. The glowing claws on the front legs are a major feature.

— The AZ-03 Murasame Liger seems to have a huge blade that affects weight balance, and the Liger Zero Phoenix seems like it'd be difficult to balance for walking.

Nakase: We're fighting with the prototype. It'll be tough to make it walk, but we'd love to make it happen. The Zoids series has many customers who pay attention to the movement, not to mention fans of the anime.

 I believe that 'movement' is the identity of Zoids. I think it's a theme that Takara Tomy must continue to present, in the same way that Transformers can be transformed. No other company can do this. The hurdles required of us will rise with the times, but we'll continue to take on that challenge.

 The AZ-03 Murasame Liger is a machine that I came up with the idea for and made a reality. That's why I'm so attached to it. I've been making Zoids for more than 20 years, and while remaking machines I made before, I feel like I've finally come full circle.

 The Liger Zero Phoenix will be combined with the Fire Phoenix. It's based on the upcoming AZ-02 Liger Zero, and we're working on a prototype while considering the combination with the BLOX Zoid Fire Phoenix. With the weight increasing even more, we'll be preparing for that from now on. When we start working on it, we'll find a lot of new problems... but after all, it's fun when they move.

Design and prototype images of the AZ-03 Murasame Liger. The Murasame Liger is a Zoid originally designed by Mr. Nakase.

The Liger Zero Phoenix is a combination of Liger Zero and Fire Phoenix.

— The lineup this time is lion-type Zoids, but when I hear about their movement, I expect Zoids with other animal and dinosaur motifs.

Nakase: Though we can't make any announcements yet, we're also working on a new project. Please look forward to seeing what kind of Zoids we'll come up with.

 After all, we've accumulated a lot of know-how through Zoids Wild. I'd like to create products that make use of this know-how. Wild Blast, which performs other actions while walking has given us quite a few ideas.

— Finally, do you have any messages for your fans?

Nakase: The AZ-01 Blade Liger will be the beginning of the Zoids 40th Anniversary festival. Please look forward not just to this festival, but to the continuation of Zoids. I hope that we'll enjoy it together, and I hope that you'll continue to support us in the future.

— Thank you very much.

Mr. Nakase's words show his strong commitment to the project. We have great expectations for future developments from him.

- Conclusion

 The interview showed Mr. Nakase's commitment to Zoids and his focus on 'movement.' In fact, the Blade Liger walking toward us was very cool. The posture in which it sank down with its weight on the ground, the way its front legs moved before landing. The movement of its chest, its back, and all the other details and parts that give it the impression of a real, living creature are worth checking out.

 The lineup for the 40th Anniversary of Zoids is centered around lion-type Zoids, but I'm very interested to see how Mr. Nakase and the rest of the Zoids team will present other animals and dinosaurs. We'll keep an eye on future developments.