1998 was a big year for Space Battleship Yamato, ringing in both the 25th anniversary of the first TV series and a changing of copyright that brought some vital new energy to the table. Yoshinobu Nishizaki’s attempt to revive the saga with Yamato 2520 ended unsuccessfully four years earlier, and in the intervening time Leiji Matsumoto took control of the copyright in conjunction with master licensor Tohokushinsha.
With Bandai as their primary production partner, they opened the floodgates to a deluge of Yamato products that would bring new life to the franchise. (See a complete gallery here.) The first of these was a handsome reissue of the five movies on Laserdisc and VHS with jacket art meant to mimic the classic Matsumoto style, rendered by artist Toshihiro Kawamoto.
Inside each sleeve was a historical article and a serialized essay by Leiji Matsumoto about his Yamato experiences. This concluded with the first announcement of his intention to create a new Yamato story and his ambitious plans for the next 25 years. The entire essay is offered here in English for the first time.
Part 1 from the Space Battleship Yamato Laserdisc (Bandai/Emotion, May 1998)
The Encounter with Space Battleship Yamato
The title and planning for Space Battleship Yamato had already begun when I was first asked to do the artwork. But at that stage it was a ship made up of rocks, which was scarcely the image of Yamato. Starsha was not in the story, and the presence of women in general was very thin.
None of this was a good match for my hobby. I couldn’t work with any of it, so I had to do it all over. That’s how I became a director.
The Secret Story of the Characters
I started from the beginning to remake the story. The only thing that remained was a name: Iscandar. That was the invention of writer Aritsune Toyota, based on an Indian reading of the name Alexander. I liked the mythology of it, so I asked Mr. Toyota if I could use it. All the others were changed.
I chose character names that were personally meaningful and interesting to me. Each one expressed a contemplative feeling. Susumu is the name of my younger brother. Yuki Mori was derived from the name of a woman I wrote letters to, Miyuki Moriki.
At first I wanted Kodai to wear round glasses like my character Noboru Oyama in Oidon Man [a 1971 manga] then the sponsor wanted me compromise and make him like [singer] Go Hiromi. His name started out as Hajime Oyama, but it changed quickly when I rewrote the first episode four times.
It was going to be Susumu Okita, and the Captain was Jyuzo Kodai, but I switched them. ‘Jyuzo’ came from Jyuza Unno, one of my favorite SF writers.
Gamilas was a modification of the name Carmilla [a Vampire servant of Dracula] and the word ‘Death’ was the foundation of Dessler.
Because of the lack of female characters in the original story, I made Yuki, Sasha, and Starsha into important characters. One of the characteristics of the worlds I draw is that women play important roles. When women come to the table, they express their feelings and smooth the edges of a savage world, adding a sense of poetry.
The Secret of Yamato‘s Birth
Yamato, the star of the show, completely changed. All the specs of the original Battleship Yamato were in my head, so I didn’t need to do any research when designing Space Battleship Yamato. I replaced the image in my head with that of a spaceship.
I was careful to think of the design for the spherical bow. Without this, it would not be a Yamato-type battleship. Nobody had thought of this yet. I don’t think anyone else could have set the form of the bow and the wave-motion gun so concretely. I required absolute self-confidence. Those who aren’t battleship maniacs don’t know about the spherical prow. It is the form that most speedily and effectively cuts through the water.
The idea of traveling through the waves was what inspired the wave-motion gun. Using the latest computer of the time, I learned how it would work in an enclosed space. The result was still somewhat fabricated, but lead to the design of the gun and the wave-motion engine. The discharge mouth was intentionally placed in the position of the Battleship Yamato‘s crest. I also created the detail of the flywheel for the main engine. The handgun was similar to a weapon I designed for my previous manga, Dafuin (1969).
Radar was added to the bridge. It was a small change, and I was careful not to disturb the original shape. The third bridge was added to take the needs of a spaceship into consideration. Without this, it wouldn’t look like a spaceship. The idea was that it could serve as the main bridge if the ship were flipped over. It became famous for constantly falling off, exploding, or taking heavy damage.
It was not quite realistic for it to be melted off by the sulphuric sea on Gamilas. Tektite, the metal covering of Yamato, would not melt from sulphuric acid. The organic Aqua Regia [Royal Water] is highly corrosive and would melt anything, but I reluctantly agreed to change the name to sulphuric acid.
Those were transitional days, and it was difficult to disseminate such scientific knowledge to the animation staff.
The word ‘warp’ was in common usage then and Yamato helped to make it famous. ‘Space Transition’ would have been more accurate but less harmonious, so I played nice and let it stand. Even I’m not sure what it means. We tried to explain it in a diagram as the jump from the top of one wave to the next. It was the first time it could be done in an anime, so I wanted to do it right.
By the time Farewell to Yamato came along, we had to live with it. In the end, I was somewhat disappointed that this sense of freshness was lost in the second half of the series.
Part 2 from the Farewell to Yamato Laserdisc (Bandai/Emotion, May 1998)
The Story of a Great New Space Voyage
I always wanted to draw a realistic space story, and that was my goal with Yamato. Because I wanted to make it for myself, there was no pretense about it being an off-the-shelf anime. If I were to do this, I wanted it to be entirely new.
The spirit was there to make this story. I was still young, and didn’t want to stick to the limitations of past works. This was also the case with Galaxy Express 999, but it was the first time I announced that I wanted to make something original with my own sensibilities, and we should forget everything that came before.
Of course, there was some backlash from the staff. But what I meant was not to limit ourselves to previous space anime as reference material. It would be radical to base our story on real, observed data.
For example, the image of the red Earth with all the water burned away by Gamilas Planet Bombs was based on a map we saw in Life magazine, Earth with the oceans removed. That was how we understood such things as the location of underwater trenches. It was also a great help that photos of the Earth from space had recently become available. This may be keeping our work from looking antiquated even now.
As for outer space, I wanted to give the impression that it was overflowing with light and matter and energy. I asked art director Hazama Keyaki to avoid depicting space as jet-black. Although previous anime had used poster-paint colors for this, I wanted transparent watercolors to show a random scattering of stars.
The star color that bathed Yamato was mostly white, but depending on temperatures there would be red and blue stars, too. But in a movie, the opposing mix of light and shadow with red and blue stars would have an adverse look.
We were all kindred spirits and agreed on this, and extensive trial and error helped us establish the color of space that we used in our backgrounds. I experimented with greys and blues for Yamato, trying to find those that would be seen most effectively while it was moving through space. We finally had to create our own colors, because ready-made ones were not available.
Since Yamato went to various planets and encountered stellar phenomenae, we had a mania for astronomy. The floating continent of Jupiter doesn’t exist, but I wanted to put it in just for the hell of it.
As for why the Gamilas looked like human beings, we took into consideration The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection and said they were part of the human family that branched off long ago. Perhaps they evolved differently because of strong radioactivity. The fact of their skin color may have caused misunderstandings, but this work wasn’t about fighting aliens that were completely different from us.
Even though outer space is the setting, it’s definitely not full of monsters. The Balanodon was different, because it was artificially created. I believe that if we ever do encounter higher forms of life in space, it would not result in a shootout. Perhaps just quiet observation, contact, and parting?
However, a species would not be able to make the leap into space if they did not have a spirit at some level, though that alone would not be a qualification. In that respect, the human race is still immature. But we will almost certainly reach that stage in a few more generations. I believe so.
Although Yamato is called a battleship, there is also a certain implication of Noah’s Ark, carrying DNA. This would allow the human race to survive even if the Earth fell to ruin.
The crew is young, since space travel is much more suitable to a younger man. Therefore, most of them are in their teens. I laugh now to think that Okita was supposed to be in his forties, since no one that age would have a white beard. At that time I was 36 years old, and people in their forties just seemed so adult.
From Storyboards to Animation
In the beginning, I drew all the storyboards myself. I reworked the first two episodes quite a lot because the beginning of the story was so important. Most of the scripts did not survive, and were rewritten for the storyboards. The producer told me it was a bad thing to change so much of the writer’s work. But the only things I aggressively changed were those that seemed like conventional anime.
There were considerable cuts from the scenes in the storyboard. What remained of the war flashback sequence in episode 2 was quite impressive. I felt it was necessary to tie in Yamato‘s fate with its new destiny, so this was another scene I made for myself.
Others were the face of Starsha floating across the frame and the body of Sasha lying on Mars in episode 1. I painted the image of Starsha myself and the original actually appeared on screen. At the time, animators were not accustomed to drawing female characters, and my style seems to have been particularly difficult for them because of its deformities. Now every animator draws obsessively and with great passion, which is a good thing.
Whenever I called for a retake, I was expected to draw it myself. It couldn’t be helped, because no one else was able to do it. I had already been a painter for some time, but this was my first time drawing for animation.
Part 3 from the New Voyage Laserdisc (Bandai/Emotion, May 1998)
Parting with Mi-Kun
There was no time for sleep in those days, because I was working on anime and manga simultaneously. I didn’t just draw Yamato for the comics. After an entire day on the anime I returned home to work on the manga at night. As should be expected, I got thinner at that time.
But the human body is good at adapting. I became able to endure it and regain my original weight. But I regret that I allowed my cat, Mi-kun, to waste away. This was probably because I was so busy and by the time I noticed it was already too late.
It was at the time Yamato had just started to air. My tears still fall when I see Dr. Sado drinking in the “farewell Mi-Kun” scene of episode 10. I opened all my doors and windows and cranked my TV to full volume when this scene came on, so my cat could hear it from her grave. It was my personal memorial service. [Editor’s note: don’t look for this scene in Star Blazers; it was edited out because of Dr. Sane’s drinking.]
Shortening the Broadcast
When I create a story, it is my technique to write the beginning and the ending, then fill in the middle. It was the same with Yamato. However, the original assumption was that we would make 51 episodes, so it was very serious when we were reduced to 26.
If the series had not been shortened, Yamato would have encountered such things as a double or triple star system, cross a great prominence, or fly through a magnetic storm. I’m not sure how we would have shown it, but it was regrettable to lose them anyway.
However, I don’t think we needed to take Captain Harlock out of the original story. At the time I thought it might be the only chance for my character to appear in an anime. Although it didn’t go through, a legacy remained. Space Pirate Captain Harlock includes a song, The Wandering Sailor’s Shanty. I wrote the lyrics of that song with Starsha in mind. Poetry was another product of that time.
Yamato‘s audience rating was quite poor, so I accepted this as an inevitability. We needed a longer runway. Recently, this was the case with Neon Genesis Evangelion. That’s what the world does to people who see things for the first time. It is a habit of the stories that I make.
In the case of Yamato, the broadcast ended when we ran out of runway. I was disappointed since we could only provide a complete portrait with all 51 episodes. It was said that the audience rating was essentially zero, so all hope was lost.
I loved working on it, but I’d had my doubts about getting it on the air at all. Mr. Nishizaki said that it would go forward, but I didn’t actually believe it until I saw it for myself. I still feel that way now. It is a miracle if something goes well. I put in my best effort even if nothing good comes of it. That’s my creed.
The Days of Heated Arguments
We quarreled all the time.
I first wanted Shima’s costume to be blue. Kodai’s was red, so blue would be complementary. There was a memo about it, and a big fight.
There was going to be a warship march anthem in episode 3, and I had an all-night fight with Mr. Nishizaki over that. I thought such a scene so early on in the series would invite misunderstanding. Shouldn’t we pay closer attention to the theme of the series? That was a heavy one.
When I saw the broadcast, I said young viewers wouldn’t go along with it. I felt I had a responsibility to stop it, and demanded a revision. This was a natural decision for me, because we were shouldering the history of Yamato. That was more important than the making of a TV program. [Editor’s note: as stated in other interviews, the anthem was replaced by a Miyagawa score in TV reruns.]
It may seem trivial to others, but because people are very sensitive to history, you should take steps not to cause misunderstanding. The SF setting and the mecha are another thing entirely.
I clashed with Mr. Nishizaki many times, but the passion to make a good show can lead to heated arguments, and in the end it was not a major problem. I wish to express my gratitude to him for giving me the chance to be involved with Yamato.
I also demanded a great deal of the staff. They wanted to lose the third bridge because it was so hard to draw. I certainly understand that process, but that doesn’t mean not having to do the work. Therefore, I’m sorry that I made them endure all that. I designed fighter planes and attached torpedo tubes to things, and made great hardships for them. In later anime, it became a new style. So it was not a wasted effort.
The adding of unnecessary gags was a characteristic of my style. A story needs lighthearted moments, but it is not necessary to force a laugh. In earlier days, when it was assumed that all comics were supposed to be funny, I objected to this and it greatly upset me. But a gag is a gag, and I don’t need it to equal a laugh. This thought has not changed.
Part 4 from the Be Forever Yamato Laserdisc (Bandai/Emotion, May 1998)
Emerging popularity and the Weight of Captain Okita’s Death
Creating on the story, characters, and mecha simultaneously is a lot of work. A lone artist doesn’t usually do it all, but I did it on Yamato. As a result, the beginning of the first series reflected my tone very strongly. However, it was in the latter half when the audience rating started to improve.
There was a considerable reaction to it, as well. There was the feeling that this was not the end of Yamato even though the decision had been made long before. I held onto such feelings during a trip I took to Africa after the broadcast ended.
I returned with my spirit refreshed and started drawing Captain Harlock and Galaxy Express. During that time, Yamato‘s popularity rose greatly, as I expected it would. I also thought that Captain Okita didn’t need to be killed after all. I originally opposed this, thinking it could be done at a later time. I had the conviction that the story was likely to continue after the first TV series was done.
I felt it was all right if he took ill, but because he was allowed to die we then had the difficulty of creating a new character to replace him in Farewell to Yamato. It was the same in the TV version [Yamato 2]. Honestly, my feeling is that it isn’t Yamato without Captain Okita; he was the lynchpin of the story.
Therefore, we had to invent a new captain for the second generation [Farewell & Yamato 2] and another for the third generation [Be Forever]. Maybe it’s just my problem, but I sometimes get them confused and they are hard to remember.
I understand that the death of a character can move you to tears, but for me a character is like my child. I never bring one forth just to be killed. As an author, I’m always thinking about a story with a long lifespan. Targeting a character for death simply for the sake of moving someone to tears is too simplistic.
Doing this in Farewell and destroying Yamato at the end is no different.
The Painful, Enjoyable First Series
The supervisor of the first movie was not me, but the one who edited it together. I kept silent, not wanting to infringe on anyone’s rights.
Because it was a big hit, we made Farewell in the following year. I was able to make it with passion and enthusiasm. During later works such as The New Voyage, I had too much else going on and I couldn’t do as much with them. Of course, there are many fans for each story. I know the feeling, having worked on many different stories myself.
But I feel that the original flavor of Yamato gradually faded away. As the series went on, it became more about fighting. It’s a strange thing, but it conversely gains the feeling of a classic. If any part of it was influenced by foreign films, I would have to come back to the first work.
Of course, when I look back there is an attachment to every series I worked on, but there is an especially deep feeling for the first one. The passion that was poured into one’s first anime stays there for everyone to see. That’s why I think it is still so beloved even after 25 years.
It was painful to make, but also enjoyable. That is my honest impression.
This is a digression, but in the first English title it was called a Space Cruiser. Since then it has been changed to Space Battleship. A cruiser is a cruiser and a battleship is a battleship. There is a big difference between them. Because ‘Cruiser’ takes it out of the realm of my hobby, I think it was a good change.
Part 5 from the Final Yamato Laserdisc (Bandai/Emotion, May 1998)
The Plan for a New Yamato
I am scheduled to start on a new Yamato manga in the near future, and intend to make a movie version as well. The rough structure of the story is already thought out, and I want to do it on as large a scale as possible.
The characters and setting will probably be from the first series, but whether Gamilas and Iscandar will appear is not yet determined. I may change the destination to make it a more spectacular story. How could Dessler turn up if Gamilas does not appear? Though it may worry some, I want to be freewheeling and not get too caught up in the original.
Of course, there must be a heroine that is equivalent to Starsha. The voyage would be useless if there was no dream of finding a woman at the destination. Because an entirely male crew would also be unpleasant, Yuki is necessary to the story.
As for Yamato, it can be improved without much change to its appearance. I want to process it to be a little more complete, adjust some details and change the interior a bit.
Like the first TV series, it will be drawn from real space science. I’ll make great use of data obtained by NASA.
CG will play an active role in the picture; it is best suited to depict a large structure such as Yamato. It can also be used to vastly improve scenes of flight so they won’t look like a creeping caterpillar as in the old days. Because I have been involved in CG since 1983, I understand its useage.
I learned of the possibilities long ago at the Tsukuba Science Expo, when I saw a scene of a mecha emerging from the ground, flying through the stratosphere and out into the far reaches of space. In conventional anime, it is impossible to do all this in one scene. CG is also now significantly cheaper than it was then.
I will have to visit a research institute and learn how to do it myself, otherwise it will not be possible for me to complain if I don’t master it. Any time I pictured something in the past, I could draw it on the spot for the staff, and I want to be able to do the same with CG.
I don’t want to put out some half-finished thing. I don’t want someone to look at it and say it was drawn by a computer. I want to make a new Yamato that does not betray the fans. Moreover, I want to make something that rewards the hard work of the staff. Because a film is a collaborative work, it can’t be completed if someone is missing. It is necessary to create a system that is blessed by teamwork. It is possible.
To be frank, I once thought that Yamato was sealed shut. But then I reconsidered and thought it might be possible to regenerate it with my own hand. Now that the copyright has reverted to normal form, I am determined to put all of my passion into it.
Completion of the Grand Matsumoto World
Yamato has appeared in the current Galaxy Express manga published in Big Gold, and is now also unified with the world of Captain Harlock and Emeraldas. The Mahoroba also appeared and has the same destination as Yamato. In fact, this work is just starting but the entire world has one destination and will face the same conclusion.
I would like to draw such a magnificent story over the next 25 years, to finish when I am 85 years old.
When I asked my dentist to name his favorite food, he said “steak.” He told me steak cured his father’s cancer when he was 76 years old, and he is still alive now at 81. My teeth are strong, and I intend to live long enough to complete this magnificent story when I am 85. I also want to do this so it will converge with Yamato‘s 50th anniversary, 25 years from now.
25 years is a long time, but it will be an enjoyable trip to spend it in this virtual reality I have made. Various new media have appeared to make this a more interesting world. CG and the internet are a lot of fun. Because there are so many things I still want to do, I cannot die for the time being.
The capacity of the internet will continuously increase. TV will enter a multi-channel era, and there are only so many past works to fill it. In the end, I would like to make a movie completely on my own. It will not be impossible to make two-odd hours with new media.
It is the ultimate dream, even though I don’t fully understand it yet.
Continue to the next Matsumoto article:
1998 interview from Comic Gon Magazine
Bonus: Crossing Over
Yamato did make cameo appearances in Leiji Matsumoto’s Galaxy Express manga in the 1990s, but it wasn’t the first or only time we’ve seen a merger. Here are some other examples…
In episode 13 of Space Pirate Captain Harlock (1978), the Arcadia travels to the Sargasso Sea, from which rises the rusted hulk of an ancient battleship, motivated by a ghostly force.
Harlock and his crew do battle with the vessel, which is never specifically named…but the contours are unmistakable.
Galaxy Express 999 also returned to animation in 1998 in an OAV titled Eternal Fantasia, with an ending scene that saw various ships converging on a planet called Dai Technologia–including Yamato. A Galaxy Express Playstation game appeared in 2001, and Yamato was back in CG form, probably reliving the same scene.
In another ’98 OAV titled DNA Sights 999.9, a boy hero struggles to get off the Earth and out into a lifetime of adventure in the sea of stars. Out of nowhere, the Arcadia and Yamato appear to escort him off.
This was just a taste of things to come. Click here to see what became of Matsumoto’s New Yamato concept.