In order to give structure to this website, we’ve grouped Yamato history into two big chunks: the production years when everything was being made and the legacy years that followed. The transition point was in 1983, in which was the saga arrived on home video at exactly the same time its finale was running in theatres. In the time since then, Yamato has been released many times over in practically every format. A review of its complete video history gives us an ideal scope through which we can view the evolution of an entire medium.
Part 1: Viva Videotape!
1983 was a fortuitous year for the Yamato saga to conclude with the theatrical release of Final Yamato in March. Prior to that time, the only way Yamato fans could see their favorite anime was to make an appointment with their TV, count down the days to the next movie premiere, or spend outrageous sums of money on short 8mm film reels. Home video was still a far-off dream enjoyed only by the very few and the very rich. Even Yamato‘s animation staff was not yet in this class, and were amazed when fans would occasionally visit the studio with off-air video recordings. The sheer difficulty of obtaining these during the 1970s spoke volumes about their dedication.
But home video would not be solely the realm of the elite for much longer. The early 1980s were the first years in which the technology dipped into the reach of the average consumer. The hardware was still clumsy and bulky. The software had still not settled on a single universal format. But those determined to see Yamato on demand were undeterred by these obstacles.
In March 1983, fans took their seats in Japanese cinemas and began flipping the pages of their freshly-printed Final Yamato program books. There, waiting to be discovered, were the earliest ads for Yamato on home video. For the first (and only) time, Yamato could be found simultaneously in a movie theatre and a store. There was little threat of competition, however, since the price of a VHS tape was roughly 100 times that of a movie ticket. Still, the future had arrived and instant access had arrived with it.
At left: program book ad for the Toei VHS tapes. When lined up, the spines created a single image.
At right: a Toei VHS magazine ad from the same period. Click to enlarge.
The movies were the first to roll out in 1983 and 84, not only in multiple formats (VHS, Beta, Laserdisc and VHD) but also from multiple labels: Toei Home Video, Nippon Columbia, CC Victor, and VAP. As the theatrical distributor of the feature films, Toei was naturally first in line to capture video sales. Nippon Columbia, having profited enormously from Yamato music, was a player of equal stature. The fact that they could coexist with two other competitors was likely an artifact of the early structure of Japanese video retail, which was a hodgepodge of varying outlets and territories. Over time that structure would streamline itself into a domain of exclusivity, but in those wild-west days, seemingly everyone had a piece of the Yamato pie.
A smattering of early 80s VHS tapes. From left: the first release of TV Series 1 (9 volumes/VAP), the first four movies (Toei), Final Yamato in its 35mm form (VAP), VHS and Beta tapes from CC Victor.
Ads for various releases. Left to right: Yamato Fan Club magazine (October 1983), an English-language flyer created for the Cannes Film Festival (May 1984), Nippon Columbia’s Music Video series (1984), and the TV compilation specials (1985). Click on each to view an enlargement.
1984 and ’85 saw the debut of the first made-for-home-video Yamato products, a line of beautifully-produced Music Videos. Closely supervised by Nishizaki, animation footage from each of the five movies was enhanced with video effects that had been pioneered in Be Forever and Final Yamato. This footage was edited and re-combined with Hiroshi Miyagawa’s magnificent scores to create a more impressionistic version of the Yamato saga. 1985 brought another musically-oriented release called the Yamato Grand Symphony, which had been performed the previous year by the NHK orchestra. As the longtime label for Yamato music, Nippon Columbia was the rightful company to release all of these, along with TV compilation movies for Yamato 2 and Yamato III. The other companies’ video contracts had expired by this time, making Columbia the reigning king of the hill for the rest of the 1980s.
Yamato‘s executive producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki, a canny businessman if there ever was one, realized the potential of home video and established a label of his own named JAVN (Japan Audio Visual Network) in November 1984. His partners in this venture were a triumvirate of companies who had a long-standing relationship with Yamato: toy and model maker Bandai, music label Nippon Columbia, and book publisher Tokuma Shoten. Among the many titles handled by JAVN was a 1989 VHS release of the first TV series in a 13-volume set (shown below).
At left: a 1986 ad for the complete JAVN video library. Click to enlarge.
This set was stretched for all it was worth, rolling out on a semi-monthly basis and then being reissued in a box set with an exclusive bonus CD at the end of the year. But as JAVN’s fortunes began to fade, its partners laid claim on its assets. Bandai scored the biggest prize, absorbing all home video rights to Yamato and becoming its primary custodian for years to come.
Their hugely popular Yamato model kits had positioned Bandai as an industry leader by the end of the 1970s, just in time to take advantage of the next big anime phenomenon: Mobile Suit Gundam. By 1989 Bandai had become a multi-tiered powerhouse with a publishing arm and their own home video label called Emotion. Their premiere release was a striking “Perfect Collection” LD set of the five movies followed in 1990 by VHS editions in matching black-and-gold sleeves, touting the selling points of ‘no cut, no trim.’ This was to differentiate them from other films that had been notoriously edited to fit a predetermined tape length. It was also a way to lure in fans who may have recorded less-than-complete TV broadcasts. (1990 Emotion ads shown below.)
The following year, Emotion rolled out all three of the TV series on VHS. This included a new 7-volume set for series 1 and the first-ever releases of Yamato 2 and Yamato III in revolutionary “triptych” video sleeves. The volumes comprising each of these sets could be lined up to form a single montage. (All three sets shown below.)
Emotion’s next release would appear three years on, in 1994. With the passing of Yamato‘s 20th anniversary in ’93, Yoshinobu Nishizaki began preparing two revival projects and a documentary was assembled to trumpet their approach. Called The Quickening, this hour-long made-for-video special reviewed the Yamato production years and provided fans with their first glimpses of Yamato Resurrection and Yamato 2520.
As another component of his new-project momentum, Nishizaki established the American office of his production company (Voyager Entertainment) and authorized the first English-subtitled release of the Yamato movies on VHS through ’94 and ’95. (Click on the flyer at left to view an enlargement.) This included the very first release of a dubbed Farewell to Yamato that had actually been produced in 1989 for the Linguaphone video label, a company which provided English-language lessons in the form of dubbed films and television shows. Linguaphone itself released the Farewell dub in Japan in 1995.
Yamato Resurrection did not go into production as planned, but Emotion released Yamato 2520 volume 0 at the end of 1994 to be followed by volumes 1 and 2 in 1995. Production problems plagued the series, however, and an ambitious 7-episode plan ended prematurely with volume 3’s release in 1996. Despite this downbeat, respect for the original Yamato saga was undiminished, and Emotion was still in a position to do something about it.
Anniversary years are always a boon to video labels, and Yamato‘s 25th anniversary was definitely a boon to Emotion in 1998. The entire lineup was re-released on VHS with a new generation of packaging. Artist Toshihiro Kawamoto provided new sleeve art for the movies and the first TV series, mimicking Leiji Matsumoto’s style so effectively that even expert fans couldn’t tell the difference. Yamato 2 and Yamato III were also re-fitted with some very handsome artwork by Toshiyuki Kubooka, which had been previously used on Emotion’s laserdisc releases.
This would bring Yamato‘s VHS history to a close, going out on the highest possible note and clearing the way for those shiny little discs that changed the game forever in that very same year. But it’s worth telling the story of some larger discs first…
Part 2: Long Live Laser!
The irony of the above title should be evident to anyone who has tracked the evolution of home video over the last twenty years or so. The struggle for dominance between tape and disc was a long one with many casualties. Few lament the passing of Beta, CED, or VHD, but when the dust settled the victors stood tall: VHS for versatility and Laserdisc for quality.
Even today, an LD is an impressive sight; a rainbow-hued disc almost a foot across with the best picture possible for its time. Far more stable and indelible than magnetic tape, laserdiscs were predicted to last forever and the production values of their packaging reflected this. Just as audiophiles still cling proudly to their LPs, anime videophiles will always genuflect on the majesty of an LD box set from Japan. At an hour per side, LDs were a perfect fit for half-hour TV episodes, and it soon became common practice to issue box sets of complete anime programs with high-profile package design.
Perfection isn’t usually achieved without casualties, however, and competition created a few of those. Just as VHS had to overcome Beta, LD had VHD to contend with. A company called Nippon Victor was the first to bring Yamato to disc on this format. Proudly advertised in the Final Yamato movie program (above), Victor’s releases of Space Battleship Yamato, Farewell to Yamato, and Be Forever undoubtedly convinced early adopters that a VHD player was the way to go. Each film was spread across 2 discs and could be purchased as early as April of 1983. (Victor would also release these on VHS and Beta the following year.) The New Voyage and Final Yamato would follow in 1985, but by that time VHD had already lost the battle.
Nippon Columbia, whose music and videotape releases had already given it a longer reach than Victor, brought all five Yamato movies, the Music Videos, and the Grand Symphony to laserdisc throughout 1984 and ’85. With a wider product line, better visibility, and stronger distribution, it must have been apparent even to the VHD loyalists that Nippon Columbia had staked their videodisc future on LD and were ready to fight for it. (Music Videos and Grand Symphony LDs shown below.)
The years following 1985 would prove Nippon Columbia right, but they would also see a changing of the guard. As recounted above, Bandai rose to power during the 1980s and set up camp in the home video market with their ‘Emotion’ label. When Nippon Columbia’s video rights expired in the late 80s (having likely been limited to a five-year licensing agreement with Nishizaki), Bandai/Emotion stepped in and raised the standards for the entire industry.
Now that LD was the undisputed format of choice for video disc, it had become feasible to produce high-end box sets such as the “Perfect Collection” released by Emotion in 1989. For the first time, all five Yamato movies could be obtained in a single package. Priced at 45,000 yen, it was cheaper than Emotion’s own VHS releases and included a bonus disc of extra video artifacts–the shape of things to come. Another notable aspect of this set was that it signaled a change in nomenclature in which the commonly-used international title Space Cruiser was formally retired in favor of the more correct Space Battleship. (Promotional flyer shown at right.)
Determined to maintain their position at the head of the pack, Emotion had no choice but to outdo itself on the next LD release, which they did handily with the first TV series “Perfect Collection” box set in 1990. Their previous standard was met and raised with new bonuses such as music tracks (essentially a re-issue of the first BGM album) and a gorgeous 100-page guidebook that still tops most other publications dedicated to the first TV series.
The Yamato 2 “Perfect Collection” arrived in 1992. This was the first Yamato LD release to offer wholly new artwork, an engaging series of illustrations by Toshiyuki Kubooka. Bonus features this time included a 32-page book of liner notes and a series of “soundscape” tracks that combined sound effects and music samples from across the saga.
1993 was marked as Yamato‘s 20th anniversary, and Emotion was right there to roll out a fresh set of the movies on individual LDs. Encouraged by the success of the Yamato 2 “Perfect Collection,” new artwork was again commissioned, this time from Hiroyuki Kitazume, who had made his mark as a character designer on numerous anime programs. Each of the discs included new liner notes, reports on the upcoming Yamato 2520, and individual movie trailers. Appearing for the first time was a true holy grail for diehard fans: the New Voyage disc included a collection of deleted scenes that had been cut from that film before they could be fully animated. A re-issue of the 1984 Grand Symphony (shown below) was also part of Emotion’s 20th anniversary lineup.
Another notable detail about 1993 was the brief emergence of the only other company to release Yamato laserdiscs, Sobi Entertainment. Partnered for a limited time with Nishizaki’s Westcape Corporation, Sobi brought the Yamato 2 and Yamato III TV compilation movies back to VHS and premiered them on LD, the last time they would be available in either format.
One more thing that stood out in 1993 was the first sign of a new Yamato series, also to commemorate the 20th anniversary. It was to be titled Yamato 2520, and was first tipped off on this two-sided video flyer from the official fan club. In addition to promoting laserdisc releases, it also advertised a pewter figure of the ship and a message from Yoshinobu Nishizaki about things to come. Read the whole history of 2520 here.
With the 20th anniversary festivities behind them, Emotion finished their “Perfect Collection” hat trick with Yamato III in 1994. Artist Toshiyuki Kubooka returned to produce another amazing set of sleeve illustrations. The set came with a 16-page book of liner notes that helped to promote the forthcoming Yamato 2520. Perhaps as a nod to fans who had previously bought Emotion’s movie box and didn’t want to spend more money on the 20th anniversary set, the deleted scenes from The New Voyage were included as a video bonus.
With 1998 came Yamato‘s 25th anniversary and yet another opportunity to repackage and re-release the classics. There had also been another changing of the guard; Leiji Matsumoto stepped in to take Nishizaki’s place for a few years, and under his tenure artist Toshihiro Kawamoto was hired to create a new look for the five movies and the first TV series. An expert at capturing the style of other artists, Kawamoto did a picture-perfect imitation of Matsumoto, heavily referencing earlier works to produce the new sleeve art. (Which was also used on the concurrent VHS tapes, as shown earlier.)
Read Matsumoto’s liner note essays from the set here.
Toshiyuki Kubooka’s art from the Yamato 2 and III box sets graced a reissue of both those series as individual volumes (below) to help the LD format go out in the best possible style. It was the end of one era and the beginning of another, as we’re about to see…
Part 3: DVD Dynasty!
If this home-video history were a symphony, 1998 would have combined its triumphant climax with a prelude for the next major movement. VHS and LD had kept a firm grip on the medium for 15 years, enough time to bury old formats and then succumb to the neverending march of technology.
Ever on the lookout for the next big thing, Emotion slipped a new ingredient into Yamato‘s 25th anniversary banquet: the very first Yamato DVD (shown at left). Since 1998 also marked the 20th anniversary of Farewell to Yamato, it was decided to give that film some special treatment. The movie was packaged in a CD jewel case which was then tucked into an LD-sized outer sleeve. This ‘hybrid’ packaging heralded a new age of Yamato on home video, an age that officially arrived just one year later.
Though VHS and LD were still around, Emotion cast its lot fully with the fledgling DVD format and reissued the full lineup of Yamato movies in August, 1999. The Kawamoto art from the previous year was repurposed for the new packaging, and each film (including Farewell) could now be found in the standard DVD cases used the world over. Other than their smaller size, which certainly made storing them easier, one new difference was not immediately apparent: three of the films had been letterboxed in such a way that the top and bottom of the picture were obstructed. No explanation for this has yet come to light, but it does mean that complete, unobstructed prints of these movies would no longer be manufactured in Japan.
With a year of momentum behind it, DVD was quickly becoming the new dominant life form in the world of home video, and Emotion was only too happy to reissue Yamato TV episodes again. Series 1 made its DVD debut in 2000, followed by Yamato 2 and III in 2001. New packaging had been created by artist Hirotoshi Sano, and each set included a booklet of generous liner notes. The big-scale production values of the “Perfect Collection” LD boxes were gone, but there was no arguing with the smaller footprint of a DVD set and the extra space for bonus features made possible by tighter video compression. These sets were loaded up with TV commercials, never-before-seen workprints, and the compilation movies for both Series 2 and Series 3. They were released simultaneously in different packaging for rental shops.
Along with this versatile new format came restrictions in the form of region coding, which meant that Yamato home videos from Japan could not be freely played on other countries’ hardware. Anime’s strong following in the rest of Asia meant that region 3-compatible discs had a ready audience waiting, so it took very little time for Yamato to migrate over to the larger continent. In partnership with Emotion, Asian distributor PW issued the entire lineup as individual sets (above, top row) and an omnibus collection (bottom row) with wholly new package design utterly unlike that found in Japan.
Voyager Entertainment brought the subtitled Yamato movies to DVD in the US from 2002-04, culminating with a box set that included a booklet containing a capsule history of the entire Yamato phenomenon up to that point, which happened to be the 30th anniversary year. As a matter of interest, that booklet became the core of inspiration for Voyager’s next DVD, a documentary called The Making of an Anime Legend which was released in 2005. (That documentary, in turn, inspired the ‘history’ thread that runs throughout this website.)
Interestingly, the next Japanese DVD appeared only one month after Voyager’s documentary: the NHK Grand Symphony, which had last been released on LD by Emotion in 1993. It came to DVD in June ’05 under the Columbia Music Entertainment label. If that name sounds familiar, there’s a simple explanation: the previous name of the company was Nippon Columbia.
The ease and low cost of producing DVDs made it possible for some unique spinoffs to appear during these years as well. Bandai’s highly successful Yamato Playstation games were full of gorgeous new animation, some of which made it to a pair of limited-edition discs that were available only through mail-order (shown above left).
Working in cooperation with pachinko game manufacturer Sankyo and an anime production company called Venture Soft, Leiji Matsumoto created a completely new series called Dai-Yamato Zero Go (above center) that ran for 5 episodes and spawned a mini-flood of tie-in merchandise. Fuji launched another pachinko game in late 2007 based on the original Yamato TV series and released a promotional DVD (above right) to support it.
2007 was yet another landmark year, the 30th anniversary of the first Yamato movie in Japanese theatres. To commemorate this, Emotion made all five movies available again in a lower-priced set called the “DVD Memorial Box.” It contained reissues of the 1999 discs with a new slipcase to hold them.
Emotion’s most recent DVD release set a new standard of excellence for things to come. The entire first TV series was remastered from its original 35mm negative using HD technology to produce the clearest, most stunning edition seen since the animation cels were placed on a camera stand. It also came with a showstopping bonus feature: an entirely new 1/700 scale Yamato model kit that reflected both the technical wizardry of Bandai’s Hobby division and the desire of a few veteran fans to finally see a kit that matched the classic image in their minds.
This set marks the most recent appearance of Yamato on home video, ten years after the arrival of Emotion’s first DVD. But with HD, Blu-Ray, and as-yet unimagined formats to come, it is almost certainly just the latest chapter of a history that is still being written.
The End (for now)
For more a more detailed look at each of the videos described in these articles, click on these links:
Series 1 videos
Series 1 HD DVD box
Space Battleship Yamato movie
Farewell to Yamato videos
Series 2 videos
The New Voyage videos
Be Forever videos
Series 3 videos
Final Yamato videos
Star Blazers videos
Some of the artists who created the extraordinary packaging for the Yamato videos have been profiled in books of their own:
Above left: Characters of Gundam, the art of Hiroyuki Kitazume
As the artist of the 1993 LD sleeves (all of which appear as signature pieces of this website), Kitazume has contributed his exquisite character designs to dozens of popular anime productions. This book showcases over 20 years of his work on various Mobile Suit Gundam projects. (Kadokawa Publishing, 2004)
Above center: Toshihiro Kawamoto Artworks, The Illusives
Kawamoto’s spot-on Matsumoto-style illustrations for the 1998 Emotion videos are just the tip of the iceberg; he has worked as a designer for all manner of print media, game, and anime projects including the mega-popular Gundam 0083 and Cowboy Bebop. This book is part of a 2-volume set that brings together all his major works from 1995-2005. (Softbank Creative, 2006)
Above right: Edge of Gundam by Hirotoshi Sano
All the offbeat paintings done for the Yamato DVD sets released in 2000 were by Sano, who has been steadily employed since 1996 as a package artist for various Mobile Suit Gundam products. This book contains an impressive collection of his Gundam works. (Hobby Japan, 2001)