A Fresh Look: The Series 1 HD Remaster

In February 2008, Bandai delivered more goods than anyone expected with the Space Battleship Yamato TV DVD Box. Completely remastered, it brings the first series back to life in crystal clarity…and sweetens the pot with one whopper of a bonus feature: a newly-designed 1/700 scale model kit! Either product by itself would have been enough to get fans buzzing, but the combination of the two easily made this the most significant Yamato product of the year.

The analog picture of all previous editions had been derived from a 16mm negative that had been struck over 25 years ago, and it looked as good as possible for the standards of the time. Beginning in 2003, High Definition technology came into its own and went into general release. Digital broadcasting increased TV resolution to 720 x 1080 scan lines, finally making it possible to fill up a widescreen TV with the cinematic ratio of 16 x 9. Despite many fits and starts, worldwide broadcast standards are scheduled to change in July 2011, at which time broadcasts will switch from analog (525 lines) to digital (1080 lines).

HD-compatible DVD players entered the marketplace in 2006 and next-generation video software soon followed as the world of high resolution began to open up. Since the first Yamato TV series signaled the start of the anime boom that still echoes loudly today, Bandai decided to honor it with an HD remastering. This was initially considered for the 30th anniversary “Memorial Box,” an August 2007 reissue of the Yamato movies, but it was decided instead to begin with Series 1.

Because of its numerous reruns, home video releases, and international exports over the years, many negatives were made of the 26 episodes, usually downgrading the image from a 35mm master to a 16mm copy. To regain the best possible quality, the original 35mm master negatives were revived and restored in consultation with Yoshinobu Nishizaki. It was found that some of the original opening and end titles had been lost over the years and were now missing, though they all still exist in 16mm form.

After processing each episode through a high-tech digital pipeline, the picture gained a clarity that hasn’t been seen since the original animation cels were placed on a camera stand. Every artifact that was once smoothed over in earlier forms of film processing now leaps off the TV screen with razor sharpness. Cel dirt, cigarette ashes, hair, dandruff, everything that was part of the working environment in the early 70s now roars back to life. This sounds like a deficit, but it really isn’t. Below: frame comparisons between the 2000 DVD picture (at left) and the HD remaster (at right).

Leiji Matsumoto himself has written over the years about the impact a creative endeavor makes on the humans who all too often have to lock themselves away for days on end. They willingly take on a lifestyle that closes them off from others, throwing away all self-concern in the service of pure creation. Anyone who has sacrificed anything in the pursuit of a singular goal has experienced this. Whether the end result is intended for one person or millions (as with an anime series) the physical impact on its creator can be the same. This definitely sums up the working conditions of the first Yamato series, in which people were isolated from the rest of the world for days on end, unable to go home or even bathe. Some literally needed to be hospitalized. Their effort and sacrifice is made only more evident by the physical traces they left on the work itself. Seeing those traces adds a quality of warmth and humanity that simply isn’t there when the final product comes out of a machine. All the imperfections make the experience more complete.

Collectors take note: though the remastering for this set is labeled “HD,” the discs themselves are compatible with standard DVD players capable of viewing Region 2.

(Continued below)

The Other Crown Jewel

The making of the new 1/700 model kit

Click here to view a gallery of model kit photos

Though his name is virtually unknown to American fans, Shoichi Manabe is a superstar in the world of high-end Japanese modelmaking. There, his work as a prototype sculptor has placed him in great demand to craft everything from limited edition “garage kits” to mass-market miniatures sold at Japanese convenience stores. Manabe was commissioned by Bandai’s Hobby division to create a prototype for what would eventually become the revolutionary 1/350 Yamato model released in early 2007. A meeting of the minds was called in June 2006 to review his work. The standards were high in that room; those who had been called to give their opinion were some of the most hardcore Yamato fans around, those who had grown up on the series and were now making anime of their own. One of them was Mr. Hideaki Anno, whose most popular series had made a Yamato-size impact on the anime world: Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Anno was so impressed with Manabe’s prototype he immediately decided to place a private order for his very own “dream Yamato,” one that would perfectly match the image he’d been carrying in his head since watching the series as a boy. Hideaki Ito, one of the project managers, already knew the remastered DVD set was in the works and together they brainstormed the idea of creating an injection-molded Yamato kit to accompany it. Bandai had made many such kits already, but this one would be different. This would be the one Anno–and many of his contemporaries–had always longed for.

Historically, Yamato has been notoriously difficult to capture in three dimensions. Because of the way animators chose to depict it on screen, stretching it here and squashing it there for dramatic effect, the animated version became “hyper-real,” full of distortions that departed from the design sheets and could not be accurately recreated in a toy or model. But the distortions were what imbued the ship with a spirit and made such a strong impression on viewers like Anno. Plenty of attempts had been made to capture it in solid form, but all had to be compromised in one way or another, either by distorting the shape as in Bandai’s Deform Display Model, or ignoring one angle in favor of another. The first 1/700 kit, for example, strongly matched the profile of the ship as it was first designed by artists at Studio Nue, but didn’t look so hot from the bow or the stern. And almost without exception, every Yamato made before 1999 had a flat belly.

When Anno first sat down with Manabe to exchange views, they were determined to wrestle these issues to the ground once and for all. (To read more about what they had to contend with, read Yamato Design Evolution here.)

Manabe had grappled with such issues before. As one of the modelers whose work was showcased in a 1995 issue of Hobby Japan (shown below left) he had meticulously remodeled Bandai’s 1/700 Andromeda kit–which was perfectly adequate in the eyes of many–into a version he felt was more accurate to the anime. This, plus his critically-acclaimed versions of other fantasy vessels like Toho’s Mighty Jack submarine, were what convinced Anno that Manabe had the chops to bring his ideal Yamato to life.

Manabe’s modification plan for the Andromeda kit, as published in Hobby Japan #310 (April, 1995). Shaded areas indicate his adjustments.

A master craftsman’s sleight of hand: by tapering both the bow and the stern
so that they are occluded by the midsection, the eye is tricked into seeing greater depth.

Interviewed in the April 2008 issue of Model Graphix, Manabe had much to say about the design process…

Manabe: Starting from the bow, the curve changed continuously all the way to the back. I consulted many times with Mr. Anno to get his advice on the hull shape. I wanted to put my heart and soul into this and faithfully capture what he had designated, not just make it from my own image, so it was a series of trial and error. I repeatedly did revisions, much more than normal. A lot of photos were needed for documentation and the prototype was taken away for long intervals. So many pictures were taken for documentation that the putty started to warp!

One particular image that figured strongly as a point of reference was a painting that had been done in the 70s by Naoyuki Kato of Studio Nue. Depicting a sharper, more stylized Yamato, it was published extensively and even appeared on early movie posters. Ultimately, this image was used for the new model kit’s box art (above). But though this was a favorite of Anno’s, it was still just a starting point.

Manabe: There was no specific source image. If I were just told to “produce a model based on this illustration” it would be pretty easy, but the Yamato Mr. Anno likes was the one that moved across the TV screen. A single image would only show a certain angle, not a three-dimensional representation. A lot of artists drew Yamato from various angles to move it across the screen, and the goal of the model was to pick up that information thoroughly.

Special attention was paid to the bow of the ship, which had never been satisfactorily captured in Manabe’s opinion. Above are four recent attempts which speak volumes about what an interpretive exercise this really is. From left: the Soul of Popynica Yamato (Bandai, 2001); Mechanic File Yamato (Bandai, 2005); Super Mechanics Yamato (Taito, 2006); and Manabe’s version.

Manabe: The bow is the face of a warship and the shape intones a certain rhythm. I was concerned about its height. In many of the conventional models, the joining line of the fairing and the deck plane stands out and the fairing is usually too low. I wanted it to stand higher off the deck than on a real ship, so it would have more expression. This helps to emphasize the wave-motion gun and bring it forward.

And concerning the design of that most famous weapon…

Manabe: I was very conscious of it. The internal shape gives it a round impression, but when I clarified it more, a hexagon emerged. That’s how it conformed to the leading edge. It’s basically a hole in a narrow bow, so I was worried about where to form it so it didn’t seem too big. But there’s that bulbous bow and the tall fairing, so they might make it seem like the gun was too small. I wanted to give the feeling that the whole bow was the wave-motion gun, and give it a real bang.

The prototype was delivered to Anno’s office at Studio Color in April, 2007 where it got the final stamp of approval and was handed over to Bandai’s Hobby division. It was optically scanned for conversion to 3-D and once the team had the blessing of Yoshinobu Nishizaki their work could begin.

Manabe’s prototype was closely interpreted, but they added some of their own interpretation on certain details such as the flanks of the ship. The know-how they had gained from creating the 1/350 Yamato was applied to make this kit very easy to build. Special effort was made to provide a seamless finish, with the model parts joining exactly


Shoichi Manabe (left), Hideaki Anno (right)
and their brainchild (foreground)


as the ship itself fits together, and most detachment points are naturally concealed. Multicolored plastic also makes painting largely unnecessary. It really is a state-of-the-art production.

Concluding his interview, Manabe had nothing but good things to say about the experience.

Manabe: I began to build Yamato kits with the “zenmai” Yamato, and 30 years later I got to make my own. That’s pretty miraculous. You always want to make something like this with your own hands. The Bandai Hobby division had a considerable hand in this, too. However, as for making a model for Mr. Anno, my work is still ongoing. The shape can still be modified with further consultation and revision. Hearing Mr. Anno’s ‘thank you’ at the end of all that effort is my true goal.

Special thanks to Adam Newman at Bandai. Some portions of this article were translated from material written by Hideaki Ito.

Click here to view a Japanese blog reporting an expert modeler’s work with this kit.

Below: Those who pre-ordered the DVD box and model kit from certain sources could get this limited-edition silver-coated edition meant to represent the “reflector shield” seen in the final episode of Series 1. This particular silver kit has been rigged with internal lighting.

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