Been a while since we presented any Mega Man mysteries for you, but we have a neat new one today! I'll admit, however, that this is a more open-and-shut case than our previous features of the Capcom Hand and Wily's Mystery Pipe. But this story is still an interesting one, because it's about a Robot Master who's developed a big cult following among Rockman fans in Japan, and yet he doesn't really exist. Perhaps in Japanese fan art you've seen an odd little robot with a cap for a head and tubes of glue for arms. He is Bond Man, the phantom Robot Master!
While a fairly simple story, details about Bond Man are hard to come by because the sources are a bit obscure. The original source of the story comes from a comic by Hitoshi Ariga called "The Men Who Created Rockman: The Rockman Birth Legend." This two part comic, which covered the hardships over the development of Rockman and Rockman 2, was originally released in the January 1995 edition of Comic Bombom. While slightly fictionalized (the main changes were the names of the people involved - Keiji Inafune became Kenji Izumi), the events themselves were founded in truth, and it was the first anyone had ever heard of Bond Man. The other major source is an interview with Keiji Inafune on Nico Video, from July 2008.
The story begins as such. Bond Man was already a conceived as an idea in the initial project proposal when Inafune came onto the team as a "graphicer" - he would end up designing the character illustrations and their sprites, or dot graphics as they are known in Japan. The initial proposal called for eight bosses, and since they were meant to be industrial robots gone bad, they were to represent basic elements relating to work and human service, like construction, electricity, timber felling, and bonding (glue, in other words). It was Inafune's job to consider the ideas and come up with designs for them.
Early in the development stages, it was decided that the number of bosses would be cut from eight to six. At the time, however, Inafune had fleshed out seven designs. It was Bond Man who ended up getting cut. This was a little tough for Inafune, and while Bond Man was not exactly an original idea of his, he'd grown to like the character he ended up making and had even gone so far as to make sprite graphics for him. It's doubtful these graphics made it into the game data.
Time passed and Rockman became a popular game series. Nothing ever came of Bond Man until manga artist and fevered Rockman fan Hitoshi Ariga discussed with Inafune about the comic he was writing to cover the events of Rockman's development. Inafune told Ariga about Bond Man, and although he never showed Ariga any of the original development material, it's said Ariga drew Bond Man based on Inafune's description, which Inafune said was basically like the idea. In other words, this means that the Bond Man we know today is actually a design of Ariga's.
Since the printing of the comic in 1995, Bond Man developed something of a cult status among Rockman fans in Japan, but was virtually unknown to the rest of the world. As the internet became more and more prominent in recent years, people outside of Japan caught their first glimpses of Bond Man in Japanese fan art here and there, though they may not have understood what he represented. Additionally, the "Rockman Birth Legend" comic was reprinted in Hitoshi Ariga's latest re-releases of his Rockman Megamix comic series. (Unfortunately these are not the editions that UDON is currently printing, otherwise the story of Bond Man would have come to light sooner!).
There is another interesting aspect to this story. Bond Man did have an opportunity for return in the 2006 PSP game Rockman Rockman (Mega Man Powered Up). Inafune considered using Bond Man as one of the two new Robot Masters in the game. However, Inafune decided that this might damage the cult status Bond Man had developed. In the interview, Inafune states:
"I thought about reviving Bond Man, but it was a little tough. What we could present in Rockman Rockman was a little different than the time that I created Bond Man. So rather than throwing him in hastily, I decided to leave Bond Man as the 'legend' he is, and I created two new characters instead."
So from that decision, Bond Man still remains as the phantom Robot Master. However, I do wonder if Bond Man will still have his day. Perhaps even as soon as Mega Man Universe? This quote from Anime News Network's recent interview with Keiji Inafune struck my eye:
"Universe is a unique project. As the title suggests, it's big. It's a whole universe. Some aspects from older Mega Man titles that I wanted to revisit might find their way in there, but it's going to expand far, far beyond that and be all about what fans want to see."
Maybe Bond Man will make his debut someday, so be sure to keep your eyes glued! Ha ha ha.
Many thanks to CAP Kobun, who has kept extensive details about Bond Man online, and Fireman, for helping me research and translate the source materials. Also thanks to AWD! for the top image, and to Kevin X Nelms for the sprite.