Home > Life in Japan > Technology
  print button email button

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

TECHNOLOGY

TALKING PIGGY BANKS

'Kane' gone? Try saving with these money boxes


Staff writer

Money — it makes the world go round, and it even talks. Or at least, these money boxes do.

Sci-fi icons Kanegon and Robby the Robot coin banks appear at the Tokyo Toy Show in June. The money-munching toys use advanced technology to count your cash, and play sound bites from their screen debut
Sci-fi icons Kanegon and Robby the Robot coin banks appear at the Tokyo Toy Show in June. The money-munching toys use advanced technology to count your cash, and play sound bites from their screen debut. IAN DICKSON PHOTOS. ROBBY THE ROBOT (C) TURNER ENTERTAINMENT CO; KANEGON (C) 1996 TSUBUYARAYA PHOTOS
News photo

Looking to classic sci-fi characters from East and West for inspiration, manufacturer Y.C. Toys Laboratory, sublicensee X Plus Co. Ltd. and sales agency Daiwa Toy have found a fun way to encourage you to save — and will no doubt rake in a few pennies for themselves in the process.

For our Western readers, Robby the Robot needs no introduction (but he's getting one anyway). The iconic robot from 1956 sci-fi masterpiece "Forbidden Planet" was perhaps the very first to portray our hard-wired helpers as having personalities, now a common staple in fiction that touches everything from C3PO and R2D2 in "Star Wars" to Robot B-9 in "Lost In Space" and Marvin the Paranoid Android in "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." So revered is Robby that he has appeared in countless B-movies and even such TV classics as "The Simpsons" and "Mork & Mindy."

Robby's story in "Forbidden Planet" keenly demonstrates Isaac Asimov's Law of Robotics, plunging him into paradox when he is ordered by Dr. Edward Morbius, whom he must obey, to take a human life, which his programming will not allow.

Of course, this little Robby can't murder a human, and he can only really obey one command: to swallow your savings. Slot some cash into Robby's chops and he comes to life, lighting up and "speaking" in the form of sound clips from his movie debut, such as, "Quiet please; I am analyzing," and a series of bleeps and bloops. A counter on Robby's chest keeps a record of your deposits, adding up yen until you choose to reset it.

If you make a withdrawal (by opening the hatch on Robby's backside), you can enter the amount with the "expenses" function, and your new total will appear accordingly. Saving up for something in particular? Set the target amount, and Robby will emit a celebratory melody when it is reached.

Of course, big savers become big spenders, and to encourage you to treasure your treasure, Robby has a trick up his sleeve. Every time you insert a 500 yen coin, Robby's coin counter becomes a slot machine, displaying three spinning numbers on his chest. Press the corresponding buttons when you're ready to stop them, and aim for a triple-7 — if you manage to pull it off, you'll be rewarded with one of three hidden sound clips.

The LCD unit also functions as an alarm clock. One irritating flaw in the product is that the ear-piercing beeps, which could be heard across the Japan Times office, cannot be disabled. So every time you switch between functions or change a setting, you'll want to reach for the earplugs. The good news is that the sound samples can be switched off — a wise move, given that Robby burbles with glee even in standby mode, equipped as he is with a light sensor.

A representative from Daiwa Toy explained that the technology inside Robby is highly advanced — for a money box, at least. While he did not go into specifics, the coin-slot seems to measure the size of the coin with a spring-loaded lever, and tot up the total accordingly. And it's not every day you find a light sensor on a coin bank. These little innovations may seem banal, but they go some way to making a must-have collectible out of an everyday savings item that has been in homes for generations.

But it's not all about Robby; fans of classic Japanese TV hero Ultraman may well recognize the other coin bank on this page. Kanegon, the oysterlike humanoid with a zippered purse for a face, first appeared in "Ultra Q" in 1966, and proved so popular that he has been reprised many times since. In fact, he is regarded as one of the most popular Ultraman monsters, despite standing at only 2 meters — titchy in comparison with the 40-meter beast Kaiju.

Kanegon's story is one of redemption. A money-mad young boy named Kaneo awakens one day to find he has inexplicably transformed into a cash-crunching monster, who must eat money regularly to prevent the coin counter on his chest from reaching zero, or face untimely death. Through his tribulations, Kanegon learns the perils of greed and is eventually returned to his original form, only to return home and discover that his parents are now Kanegons too!

The Kanegon money box boasts the same features as Robby, but his character obviously seems better suited to the task of counting bounty. Pushing yen into his coin-purse mouth is really quite satisfying, and his plaintive cries of "Onaka suita!" ("I'm hungry!") are nothing short of adorable.

But while you might grudgingly accept the functional beeps emitted by a robot such as Robby, they are much more jarring coming from an organic ogre such as Kanegon. It's a shame, as this is such a tiny drawback that nonetheless drives you to distraction.

But hey, who cares? As eye-candy these two coin boxes are spot-on. Both are faithfully and lovingly rendered as plastic partners to their on-screen originals, and feel chunky and durable. Robby stands at 26 cm tall and Kanegon at 30 cm. The 5,980 yen price tag for each figure seems reasonable, and the mysterious packaging makes either one a cool gift for the sci-fi nerd in your life.

Of course, if you spend all your money on collectibles such as these, you'll have nothing left to put inside. But if you have the yen to engage in a little playful nostalgia, maybe you'll find a space in your wallet for Robby or Kanegon. Money, eh? It must be funny in a rich man's world.

The Robby the Robot coin bank is available now; Kanegon will be released at the end of the month.


Back to Top

About us |  Work for us |  Contact us |  Privacy policy |  Link policy |  Registration FAQ
Advertise in japantimes.co.jp.
This site has been optimized for modern browsers. Please make sure that Javascript is enabled in your browser's preferences.
The Japan Times Ltd. All rights reserved.