I’ll soon be publishing my first ever review of a Tokyo Marui airsoft replica on this site. Many people believe that these are some of the best airsoft replicas ever made. That’s a big claim and I hope to find out if it’s true. What is certainly true is the TM pistols are generally amongst the most expensive airsoft replicas. Are they worth it and are they really better than other airsoft replicas? I hope to address those questions in the review, but in the meantime I want to provide a short background to Tokyo Marui and to examine why this Company is still regarded as one of the leaders in airsoft innovation.
Tokyo Marui was founded in Tokyo, Japan in 1965 by two brothers named Iwasawa (the two overlapping circles on the TM logo are said to represent the two brothers) and the Company quickly became very successful as a manufacturer and distributor of children’s toys. Their very first product was the Astro Boy Glider, a plastic flying toy. There are few details of precisely what this was, but it sold over two million examples so it must have been pretty good. Not as good as the following product though – the Zero Fighter Glider sold more than three million examples! These early commercial successes were enough to set the company on a secure financial basis and by 1969 the Company had its own moulding works to produce the plastic components for their toys. In its early toys, as in almost everything it went on to make, Tokyo Marui attempted to balance innovation and novel features with providing products that were manufactured to a high standard and which were reliable in use.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Tokyo Marui made a lot of toys which tied-in with Japanese television shows. This is a TM model of the fictional MAT Arrow 1 attack aircraft which was flown by the Monster Attack Team in the 1970s show “The Return of Ultraman.” It looks pretty cool, but be aware that early TM plastic toys are now very popular with collectors and rare models sell for anything up to $3,000 each!
In 1979 they introduced their first model gun, a cap firing, full size blowback replica of the Auto-Mag. In 1985 they produced their first airsoft pistol, a spring powered 6mm replica of the P-08 Luger and just one year later the Company produced the very first blowback airsoft pistol, a replica of the Smith & Wesson M59. This combined their expertise in producing blowback, cap firing replicas with the emerging market for airsoft replicas. The TM M59 used a spring to move the slide backwards and gas pressure to move the slide forwards – the opposite of the system seen on most blowback replicas today, but it was a massive success in the Japanese market and the addition of blowback helped to sell the concept of airsoft to both collectors and shooters.
The TM S&W M59 wasn’t just the first TM blowback airsoft pistol, it was (as far as I know) the first ever replica pistol to feature blowback.
In 1991 TM used their expertise in manufacturing very small electric motors for RC cars and boats to produce the first AEG – a replica of the French FAMAS assault rifle. This was also a huge commercial success and TM soon had a range of AEG replicas. The commercial success of TM blowback and AEG replicas prompted many other companies based in China and Taiwan to copy these designs and the term “TM Clone” or “TM Compatible” became common in the airsoft world to describe these copies. However, despite the widespread availability of cheaper copies of their replicas, Tokyo Marui airsoft weapons remained very popular. To understand why that was, it’s probably worth looking at what makes them more expensive in the first place.
The 1991 TM FAMAS 556F1 AEG. Which was (again, as far as I know), the very first airsoft AEG
First of all, Tokyo Marui remain innovators in airsoft design (for example, in 2015 they released the first ever AEG shotgun – the AA-12 AES). You will see many replicas from Taiwna and China which are obvious copies of TM pistols, but I’m not aware of any TM replica which is a copy of a Taiwanese or Chinese product. This means that TM have to spend time and money on R&D for each new design, and the only way to get this back is to charge a little more for each replica. Those who copy TM designs don’t have to spend so much on R&D and so can charge less.
Second, TM replicas are designed and manufactured in Japan. The costs of labour and materials are much, much higher in Japan than they are in China, the Phillipines or even in Taiwan. This means that it costs more to make a replica in Japan than it does elsewhere, but the presence of highly trained and motivated staff and the use of high quality materials means that the quality of replicas manufactured in Japan is also generally higher.
Finally, TM still have their own plastic moulding works. This means that the parts for TM replicas are made in-house and are subject to careful quality checking and reliability testing. Many other airsoft producers sub-contract the creation of plastic mouldings. This method can be cheaper, but it makes it less easy to ensure consistent high quality.
TM still make toys. This is their Pro-Z Modular train set, introduced in 2008, in which all the buildings and trains are illuminated with tiny LED lights. I don’t know about you, but there’s just something about train sets that brings out the little boy in me – I’d love to own one of these!
It also seems to me that the difference in price between TM replicas and those manufactured in Taiwan and hina has decreased in recent years. Where I live, the cost of the TM Dual Stainless I’m about to review is just under €170. In comparison, the fairly similar Taiwanese WE 5.1 Hi Capa T-Rex actually sells for a few euros more while the KJ Works KP-06 Hi-Capa (which lacks the stainless finish) is around €120. The Chinese airsoft company Well offer several blowback Hi-Capas which sell for around €70 – €90. The TM version (which is most likely the original on which the other copies are based) does sell for more, but perhaps not as much more as you might think.
So, there you are. TM make airsoft replicas that are said to be better than the copies made in Taiwan and China. Is that really true? Does all that innovation, research and design actually deliver a better shooting experience? Are TM replicas worth the extra money? Hopefully I’ll answer these and other questions in the forthcoming World of Replica Air Pistols review of the Tokyo Marui Hi-Capa Custom.