In fact, it barely has legs at all, designer Kogoro Kurata having wisely opted for wheeled instead of walking locomotion for his extremely impressive first attempt at de-fictionalizing the ubiquitous giant fighting robot of Japanese pop culture. His project site at Suidobashi Heavy Industries has been up for more than a year, and includes an impressive “build to order” system that lets you specify factory options for your fighting machine ranging from various weapons systems, to upgraded armor, to genuine leather seats and custom paint jobs. The price is updated in real time, as you go, and the whole thing even wraps up with a buy-it-now button.
It was hard to tell, at first, whether Kurata might not actually be serious. And, perhaps, slightly deranged. Actually clicking on the “buy” button takes you to a form listing the options you specified, the color, and the stated price, which prompts you for for an e-mail address—presumably, so a salesperson can contact you to complete your order. One does not, after all, simply dispatch a PayPal payment in the amount of $2,000,000 and expect delivery of a bleeding-edge military weapons system in 3 to 5 weeks.
And then last summer, the videos began to appear—videos styled in the very best, completely over the top, defense-industry trade show traditions—showing at least one very real, apparently functional Kuratas mech moving its arms, torso, and wheels. Cruising around in urban traffic. Opening and closing the cockpit. Displays powering up, tracking systems coming online, gun barrels spinning.
You had to watch pretty closely, but eventually the hints started piling up—the shoulder-mounted missile pod shoots water-rockets that “from time to time will hit their targets,” the miniguns are loaded with plastic pellets, and the weapons systems are designed to fire when the pilot smiles. So the cat’s out of the bag: “Suidobashi Heavy Industries” is, in fact, pulling our chain. Now, disclaimers have appeared openly identifying Kuratas as a “work of art.”
But it’s been a heckuva stunt, executed with a stage magician’s flair for timing, and the Kuratas itself is a pretty stunning build. If you’re in Tokyo this weekend, don’t miss your chance to see it in person at this year’s Maker Faire Tokyo.