When Paper Robots Kick Ass

When Paper Robots Kick Ass

Everything is now digital. This sentence, for example, doesn’t exist in tangible space. But there was a time when you could reach out and touch everything. There was a time when paper was king.

That time is over. But don’t tell that to Tomohiro Yasui. In his hand-made ring, paper is still king – and has been since the analogue era. As a fifth grader in the early 1980s, Yasui began creating paper robots. Instead of having his real robot toys fight (and get possibly dinged up), Yasui had them wrestle in his bedroom.

The paper robots are between 15cm and 20cm, sporting joints that enable them to move like posable paper figurines. His robots start out with a drawing. He then cuts the individuals pieces out of stiff paper with either scissors or an exacto knife, and the pieces are then painstakingly coloured. Some pieces are connected by cellophane tape, others with wire. Over time, the stiff robots become easier to move and play with.

After finishing grade school, Yasui decided that his paper robots, or “kami-robo” as he called them, were kids’ stuff, and he stuffed them away in his closet. It wasn’t until he was studying art at university that a then 18-year-old Yasui decided to resume his papercraft hobby. It wasn’t only paper robot wrestlers Yasui created, but increasingly detailed backstories, rivalries and alliances. Yasui had always been a fan of Japanese pro-wrestling and even wrestled in college, and the world of real Japanese wrestling was reflected in his toys.


By 2004, Yasui’s private hobby went public. He started taping kami-robo fights and uploading them to the internet, complete with his own colour commentary. His videos appeared on the website of Shigesato Itoi, famed Japanese copywriter and Mother designer.

The following year, his paper bots were being shown at art galleries in Tokyo. It was around that time that I interviewed Yasui for a magazine piece. In 2006, his robots were exhibited at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London, and one of his kami-robo fights aired on Japanese television.

Yasui continues to make his robots, even appearing at the 2007 Comic Con for a live kami-robo fight. Besides books and kami-robo goods, Yasui also gives workshops on how to design and build paper fighting bots, and this past January, his work even appeared on Smap x Smap, one of the country’s most popular television programs. And this past March, Yasui’s kami-robo, which have been influenced by Mexican wrestling aesthetics, were brought to life as Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre wrestlers donned kami-robo type outfits.


What makes his robots so unique is that like many very cool papercraft, his work isn’t designed to be left up on a shelf somewhere, like these impressive South Korean “Pabot” or “paper robots” recently released in Japan (pictured) and that claim to be the world’s first paper folding robots. Kami-robo are designed to beat the tar out of each other – win or lose. And in today’s digital world, that’s what makes them so special.

Click here to see Yasui build a kami-robo out and here to see a Pabot put together.


Culture Smash is a daily dose of things topical, interesting and sometimes even awesome – game related and beyond.

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