Discount Yamato
a Rogue’s Gallery of Knockoffs

Where there is a great success story, imitators usually spring up looking for a free ride like Star Flies on a Space Battleship. (Clever turn there, eh?) Amid the flood of merchandising that followed the first two Yamato movies in ’77 and ’78 there could be found a predictable number of knockoff products, tailor-made to fool the eye of the uninformed (or indiscriminant) consumer. The problem eventually became widespread enough for legitimate companies to take protective action in the form of foil stickers (called “Hanko Marks”) on their own packaging to indicate a legitimately licensed product. It may not have stopped the flow of counterfeits, but it did help to educate the public against them.

On the upside, it does take a creative (if misguided) mind and a sort of endearing chutzpah to push these things out into broad daylight, and it can be great fun to examine them with a trained eye.

Shown at right is a prime example, and probably one of the strangest. This extremely low-budget model, called simply Space Battleship, sports twin wave-motion guns like those on the Andromeda. At least that’s what the label art promises. The kit itself was probably less impressive.

Below is a great example of fly-by-night bootlegging, plastic figures of Kodai and Yuki that look like they just arrived from Easter Island.


The same mini-model kit shown above was repackaged (possibly even re-pirated) with some almost-actionable artwork and renamed “Plastic Model Battleship Yamato” by a company called Cosmos.

This bag of gum-rubber “Space Battleships” was very similar to legitimate ones released by Amada in 1979, but in far more headache-inducing colors.

Also in the mini-model category we have the World War II Japanese Navy Battleship Yamato (left) with box art that would not look at all out of place in the EDF spacefleet. This kit came with a tiny motor to turn what must have been a tiny propellor. Next up (center) is the Battleship Yamato from the “World Ship Series” which probably wasn’t a series at all unless you count the different colors of rubber. Two different styles of rubber ship are shown on the card at right, which is also labeled Battleship Yamato. No one could copyright the name of the real thing, after all. Interestingly, the larger of these two rubber Yamatos looks like a convincing version of Akira Hio’s “Tubby Yamato” from his first manga series.

Another product in the “Battleship Yamato” line was this set of rubber ships, shrink-wrapped together onto a card with some very actionable artwork. The ships themselves are just ever-so-slightly modified versions of Yamato and Andromeda for a convincing re-enactment of the “we lost two coats of paint” scene.

The Nakamura company evidently thought Yamato-style box art and nomenclature would lift some fairly conventional submarine kits to higher visibility, and they may have been right. On the left we have the Thresher Space, the Seawolf Space, and the “Unreadable because of camera flash” Space. On the right Nakamura offers us the Cosmo Hunter, Star Viking, Saturn Devil (which could also be read as Satan Devil — yikes!) and Orion Echo.

Yamato was only one of the high-profile anime programs imitated in this series of model kits from the Arii Company (which would go on to legitimacy when it scored valuable model kit rights to Macross and Orguss in the early 80s). Arii’s Galaxy Machine series (top row) was a line of pseudo-SF hot rods with generic-looking cardboard anime characters whose purpose was to be run over. Galaxy Machine 007 is being inspected by some familiar faces. Another Arii masterpiece (bottom row) was the 8-millimeter Spy Camera, which kids could use to launch tiny plastic missiles at their unsuspecting friends. Countless kids were probably heartbroken to discover that it could not shoot flames, as demonstrated by Pseudo Mark Venture on the box cover.

Not even Space Carrier Blue Noah could escape Arii’s reach, as demonstrated by this Spy Radio Cassette recorder model kit, which looks cheap and ordinary until you hit the eject button. Then, instead of an innocent cassette tape your unsuspecting “friend” gets a high-velocity plastic disc in the eye. They just don’t make ’em like this any more.

Moving up the model kit food chain, we come to the Space Battleship series from a company called Marui. The kits themselves were fairly ordinary SF vehicles, but the box art traded heavily on Yamato-“inspired” imagery. The Part II and Part III labels very likely place them in the 1978-79 range when Farewell to Yamato was also referred to as Yamato Part 2. A close look at the promo sheet (lower right) showed at least 10 kits in the “Marui Animation Series.” It’s a fair bet that none of them lived up to the promise of their exciting boxes. One more obvious Yamato swipe was a barely-doctored image of a Comet Empire Carrier (center, white box) hidden inside the packaging.

See a gallery of the Marui kits here.

A mainstream model kit manufacturer named Aoshima surpassed all others with a huge line of its own transforming spaceships under the umbrella title of Redhawk Yamato (explored in detail here). But that wasn’t all they did; they also had a line of cute characters named “Robo Dachi” with all sorts of vehicles and playsets. This one, named “Battleship Island,” was about 20 inches long when assembled and came with 12 figures. One guess which battleship was used as a reference point.

Moving from the model to the toy world, we have the Great Ship Battleship Yamato, a spinning-propellor tub toy which came in two colors and fired plastic missiles from a cannon set into the bow—just like the real battleship! In all fairness, this wasn’t the only time Yamato would be allowed to launch something from its nose. The artwork at right added a similar feature when it was painted in 1976 for the European release of the English-dubbed Space Cruiser Yamato movie. Odds are, it was not painted in Japan.

The manufacturer of this rather cool-looking disc-shooting SF pistol is unknown, but the images being used to sell it are quite familiar. And once again, it’s simply called Battleship Yamato on that strip along the bottom. (Or to be fully accurate, it’s spelled with kanji characters that were once pronounced “Dai-Wa” but were popularized in Japan as “Yamato.”) Must be a coincidence…

Next up are the ubiquitous keychains, easy to make and easy to foist on an undiscerning public. They lack even a name connection, though the label shown upper left is derived from another anime series entirely called Brave Raideen. The manufacturer “Fuji” (shown at right) didn’t even customize the card label, opting instead for the all-purpose “Lucky Keyholder.” And honestly, who wouldn’t feel lucky with one of these treasures dangling from their key ring?

Of course, Yamato knockoffs were not limited to toys and models since paper goods were much cheaper and easier to make. Chief among these were examples of mega-popular “Menko Cards,” which were made by the ton for Japanese children with tiny allowances. For just a few yen, kids could buy cards with color pictures on one side (often pirated from popular movies and TV shows) and a montage of graphics on the other that could be used to play various games. Such cards were usually packaged in just-as-cheaply made envelopes that shipped in bundles such as those shown above right. Similar envelopes contained dirt-cheap stickers like those shown below. Once again, they are marketed under the unassailable “Battleship Yamato” name.

These nameless “Gum Cards” were obviously meant to capitalize on Farewell to Yamato and apparently offered rudimentary lessons in the English alphabet. (“Senkan” means “Battleship.”)

The images above rank among the better Menko Card efforts, again derived from Farewell to Yamato and almost certainly rendered by the same artist who did the “Gum Card” art. These were sold in uncut sheets with quiz questions on the back.

Here are two products created, if not by the same company, then certainly by the same artist. Above left is the label for an “SF Yamato” sticker set and above right is an activity book. Both combine Yamato with other Leiji Matsumoto characters, redesign the crew uniform to look like a playing card, and depict a Wave-Motion Gun that looks ready to chow down on whatever it doesn’t blow up. See a selection of the stickers here.

It’s tempting to think that this last set was a legitimate one, since it appears to have used actual spaceship art from Yamato movie posters, but given the radical departure from the character design, it’s far more likely that this instead was the boldest bootleg card set of them all. Even its packaging was a swipe from the megapopular mini-card booklets developed by the high-profile Amada company, which was a legitimate licensor. See a selection of the cards here.

Elsewhere in the world of cards was this well-meaning but not-ready-for-prime-time set of playing cards.

Pseudo Yuki is looking somewhat wistful about her lot in life…

This all-plastic children’s lunchbox (above left) is a bit of a mystery. Discovered by Star Blazers superfan Michael Pinto at a New York City flea market, it combines Yamato characters with spaceships from Crusher Joe and Gundam without actually naming any of them. And though the origins of this product are in doubt, the source material for its artwork is not; compare it to a poster (center) that was published in a 1981 issue of Animedia magazine. Photos courtesy of Star Blazers superfan Brian Cirulnick. You can meet both Michael and Brian here.

At right we have an unnamed clipboard found by Star Blazers superfan Derek Wakefield, pulling together images from Be Forever. The awkward placement of Kodai’s finger practically begs for a caption…

Above left we have what looks like origami paper festooned with random images from the Akira Hio manga for the first TV series and other odds & ends. It could almost be legit but for all the inconsistent colors that would certainly have been subject to quality control under normal standards. Above right is one of those generic SF toy pistols that lent itself to endless repackaging. In this case, it gets a double prize for grabbing images from both Yamato and Gatchaman/Battle of the Planets. If it were sold in US toy stores in 1979 or so, it would have been well-timed to capitalize on both.

In a country where bicycles outnumber cars, it’s only natural that plenty of unique accessories would be developed for bikes. Case in point: mudflaps. Easy to make, they’re little more than a sheet of vinyl suspended out behind the rider. And if you’ve got a blank sheet, why not print something on it? That’s how these brazenly bootlegged Yamato mudflaps came to be. The one shown at far left should leave no doubt as to its nationality.

This brazen collection of ‘neckties’ (labeled ‘nekuta’ on the headercard) made no attempt to hide its origins, swiping artwork from the Farewell to Yamato era and slapping the name Yamato right on top. That aside, this is actually quite a clever product; vinyl insignia that fastens around the neck with velcro and provides an instant crew costume for any occasion. Since most knockoff products disappeared after 1978, this was probably one of the last.

Next we have this bewildering “Space Game,” a poster-size cardboard foldout probably meant for children’s parties, since its backside sports a pin-the-face-on-the-clown game. This bootleg was an equal-opportunity borrower, haphazardly combining Yamato images with Captain Harlock, various paintings from design house Studio Nue, and who knows what else. The mechanics of the “Space Game” were pretty conventional; lose a turn, jump to number XX, etc. But redefined as a “Where the heck is that from” game, it would be a genuine challenge.

…and because one is never enough, here’s the “SF Fantasia” game, probably bootlegged by the same gang of miscreants.

Yep. Three’s the charm. Zordar’s a Gamilon and Hijikata is a blonde in this one.

We’re not done yet! Above left is the fabulous “Mini Kite,” which would be utterly embarrassing to fly at the beach if it looks anything like the closeup drawing. On the other hand, the inflatable floater ring doesn’t look bad at all. It’s just the lack of an official Yamato logo that makes it suspect.

Here are two nasty pieces of work indeed, possibly the cheapest kites ever conceived. The one at left is probably a color-and-assemble-it-yourself setup, and as for the other one…your guess is as good as any. As knockoffs go, they don’t get much knockier.

As long as we’re up in the air, here’s a “Space Battleship” glider that would probably be actionable if the fighter craft on the left was a Cosmo Tiger.

This is probably as far as anyone could take a Yamato knockoff, but to be fair it knocks off a lot of other anime, too. This DVD label is for a 1979 Korean-made “anime” masterpiece titled Earth Spacefleet. Evil aliens attack Earth’s flagship (a dead ringer for Andromeda) from their evil floating half-planetoid space fortress, flying Cosmo Tigers with evil paint schemes. Earth’s greatest moustache-wearing scientist is captured, so his two children and their robot teddy bear enlist the help of three interstellar Musketeers to get him back and defeat the enemy. Yamato, Gundam, Zanbot 3, and Message from Space all “contributed” something to this 15-minute story that somehow got stretched out to an hour.

See a clip from this masterpiece on YouTube here.

Finally, straddling the world of real and ripoff is this well-intentioned “Pocket Mates” Juvenile SF novel, Space Battleship Musashi. (You knew someone had to try it, right?) Published in 1980 by Bunka Shuppankyoku, it was written by Ken Wakasaki, a writer of detective fiction and a prolific novelizer of such anime programs as Baldios, Galaxy Express…and Yamato.

Adventurers Takeshi, Yuki and Horei are searching for treasure at the bottom of the ocean, using their naturally gifted psychic power. They are young people of the Planet Bantera but cross-bred with Earth, which was conquered by Baranoa Galaxy Empire in the 21st century. They are caught up in a marine tornado and escape by teleportation. During their escape, they find the invincible Battleship Musashi, built by the Imperial Japanese Navy. They revive it as a space battleship (sound familiar?), dreaming to visit their old home, the Baranoa Empire. (Special thanks to Michiko Ito for translation.)

It’s entirely possible (probably inevitable) that the world of Yamato knock-off products goes wider and deeper than the samples presented here. And in fact there is a whole self-contained line of faux-Yamato model kits that so captured the imagination of Japanese kids in the 1970s that they would become elevated above the level of knock-off to gain a life of their own. What were they? Click here to find out.

Special thanks to Yamato superfan Carol Hutchings for suggesting the title of this article.

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