A Good Time to be a Fan, 1978 – 1983

The history of the official Yamato Fan Club, Part 1

Phase one of Space Battleship Yamato fandom in Japan was undoubtedly the most critical and influential time for the entire medium of Japanese animation as we know it. As described here, the passion of that first generation for Yamato planted all the seeds for a harvest we still enjoy today. Their devotion to the TV series set the tone for publishing (both amateur and professional), conventions, merchandising, and even the promotion of anime productions. Their hard work primed a massive audience for the Yamato feature film in 1977, which was a runaway success—a game changer if you will—that thrust anime firmly into the mainstream of Japanese pop culture.

Producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki fully recognized the value of their contribution and returned the favor by making it much easier for them to continue. Hot on the heels of his November 15, 1977 announcement that there would be a Yamato sequel, he set into motion phase two of Yamato fandom: the founding of an official fan club.

In keeping with phase one, this move brought entirely new possibilities into play, not the least of which was the very first opportunity for fans to have direct contact with the studio from which their favorite anime emerged.

The club headquarters, based at Nishizaki’s Academy Studio in the Chiyoda ward of Tokyo, opened its doors in December 1977, just as the activity of private clubs reached its peak. Its first writeup could be found in the Space Battleship Yamato Roman Album from publisher Tokuma Shoten:

Large posters of Yamato adorned the walls. The staff members move busily around the mountains of fan letters. The office is full of energy. The telephone rings.

“Hello, this is the headquarters of Yamato fan club.”

The call is from someone who wants to join. At this time, there are more than 200 Yamato fan clubs both large and small. Since the film was released, the headquarters has received almost 50 calls per day from fans asking either to join the club or how to create one of their own. The number has been steadily increasing with each passing day.

Yamato fans from all over Japan visit the headquarters. A high school student from Hiroshima desperately begs for animation cels, and three female high school students from Osaka come looking for advance movie tickets. Another enthusiastic fan brings in his model of Analyzer. There have been fans before, but Yamato fans are a new breed, and have changed many previous trends.

“I also have a lot of fans,” says Yoshinobu Nishizaki. “Some fans visit from remote places to see me, saying their dream is to meet Mr. Nishizaki.”

Until now, most anime fans were very young children, but Yamato completely changed this. The overwhelming majority of Yamato fans range from middle school to college students. This is indicated by the use of such names as “Yamato high school fan club” and “Yamato University Study Group.”

The objects of their enthusiasm vary considerably. Some fans love the mechanical aspects of Yamato while some are fascinated with the characters. A university student says he wants a girlfriend like Queen Starsha while a high school girl says Dessler’s eyes are irresistible. And still others are fascinated with the song ‘The Scarlet Scarf’ performed by Isao Sasaki.

Above: some of the fan club badges, issued with every membership renewal. See a complete gallery here.

Continuing members would pile up a lot of badges, so the club offered a badge holder (above center) for the current one.
For expired badges, there were plenty of general-purpose
Yamato card wallets to choose from like the one shown above right.

All Aboard!

The membership fee was set at 1200 yen for a four-month term, plus 400 yen for one-time enrollment. These fees were waived for those who participated in the grass-roots promotional campaign for the first movie. New and younger fans had joined the fold after its release.

Members received a plastic membership badge that changed its design with every new term (customized with stars to tally up longevity), along with a welcome letter and a booklet introducing them to the wide world of Yamato. This booklet was redesigned to commemorate subsequent feature films, making for a total of four separate editions. Interestingly, the list of club rules was considerably streamlined from a very detailed manifesto in the first booklet down to bare bones in the fourth. Comparing them in hindsight demonstrates how new the concept of an official fan club really was in 1978. The first set of rules is festooned with definitions, subsections and painstaking detail. By 1983 it was down to less than half its original length.

The four booklets, spanning 1978 to 1983. Click on each cover image to view the interior from cover to cover

The club offered such benefits as the rental of a 30-minute 16mm film for 5000 yen (about $50) and production documents such as scripts and storyboards. Furthermore, members would be the first to hear about meeting events and special film screenings. As time went on, such opportunities would be truly coveted.

Yamato products called ‘fancy goods’ were made available by mail-order with special discounts. They were similar in nature to Sanrio stationery products that could be ordered from girls’ magazines from the early 1970s. Many of the ‘fancy goods’ were also sold in department stores to tie in with the release of Farewell to Yamato, which laid the groundwork for the nationwide rise of anime specialty shops.

But the real gem, the one that kept fans renewing their memberships, was the official fan club magazine, which made its debut in February 1978. It started out as a 20-page monthly with a few pages in color, then went bi-monthly with issue 4 in June. The magazine immediately proved its value during the run-up to Farewell to Yamato, since it was the only place to get an advance look at the production.

This included an unprecedented opportunity to participate in the making of the film on a limited basis. Issue 3 of the magazine came with an insert flyer that revealed for the first time the lyrics of From Yamato With Love, which would become the end-title song. Fans were asked to mail in their suggestions for likely singers, three male candidates and three female. It is not known whether this resulted in the hiring of Kenji Sawada, but since there was a two-month gap between this solicitation and the recording of the song, it’s entirely possible that fans had made the choice.

Official membership numbers varied during the first year, but were still impressive. A published source in 1981 placed the number of charter members at 3,000, but a much higher figure of 180,000 was stated in the first media press conference for Farewell to Yamato (May 24, 1978). Still another source from November 1978 put the official number at 60,000. This came with the caveat that the members probably shared the benefits with friends, easily doubling or tripling the exposure. At any rate, 60,000 is a consistent number quoted in subsequent sources.

Older fans who had been active since the days of the first TV series did not stay with the official fan club forever, naturally gravitating toward other SF anime. To younger fans, the headquarters was the focal point of the Yamato phenomenon as it became the primary source of information on new productions.

Zero to Sixty

The club’s staff were thrown right into the thick of things during their inaugural year, organizing the promotional tour for Farewell to Yamato. Starting May 25th, Nishizaki himself kicked off a meet-the-fans campaign that covered 10 cities in two months, the second month of which incorporated the Space Battleship Yamato Symphonic Concert series. Deftly coordinated with revivals of the first movie and reruns of the first TV series, all this added up to the Summer of Yamato Fever (as it was later called in Animage magazine).



This was also the period when Academy Studio revived Office Academy, which had existed for a brief time to oversee product licensing for the TV series, and was now kicked into high gear to become a publishing unit as well. Its first offering was a high-end box set of three hardcover books with stunning production values and unprecedented detail. The Space Battleship Yamato Complete Collection of Records devoted over 1,000 pages to the first TV series. At a time when anime publishing had barely gotten off the launch pad, this massive tome was already well beyond the stratosphere.

Office Academy created similar books for each subsequent movie, along with theatrical program books and other publications such as the Yamato Hot Blood novelization in 1979. Regardless of where the rest of the publishing world was at any given time, Office Academy was reliably far out in front blazing new paths.

Regardless of their rising success, however, the staff at Office Academy took nothing for granted. One bit of guerilla marketing that had worked particularly well the previous summer was a postcard sent out to fans asking them to bombard radio stations with requests for the Yamato theme. Now that the official fan club was formed and a much wider network could be tapped, this strategy was repeated in 1978. The mailer shown above contained a huge list of radio stations–and their request line phone numbers–along with a message asking fans to come to Yamato‘s aid once again.


The fan club staff circa 1978

The fan club’s headquarters moved to Tokyo’s Nerima ward in September 1978, where it could share a building with the production office for Yamato 2. This heralded the next major stage of the club, which was to provide coverage and receive viewer mail. An enormous amount of viewer mail. The first episode of Yamato 2 brought in well over half a million letters which piled high on a desk, rendering it useless. The best of these were chosen to be printed in the magazine’s Fan Plaza section, which began right from the first issue as a showcase for the entire fan community. In addition to reprinting fan art and commentary, it also provided a list of pen pals and private clubs that were open to new members. It was the natural expansion of a rudimentary network fans themselves had established in the early years.

The magazine ran exclusive features on Yamato 2 from October ’78 to April ’79, during which time another threshold was passed in terms of the intimacy between the studio and the fans. Issue 8 (published in spring 1979) featured another insert flyer that has now long outlived its purpose but provides an interesting time capsule:

To all Yamato fans,

Some days ago (February 25th) it was reported nationwide in newspapers, TV, radio, etc. that there was a “tax declaration” problem with Academy Co. Ltd., which may cause worry to Yamato fans. As the general manager of Academy, I want to sincerely apologize.

This reporting was based on a difference of opinion, which you will understand upon hearing the facts. While I was planning the Space Battleship Yamato movie, I determined that parts of the business were separate from my duties as a producer. Therefore, I am not the president of Academy Co. Ltd.

Mr. Kenichiro Ota is the manager of financial and tax affairs, and I trust him completely. I was overseas working on the American version of Yamato [Star Blazers] and returned home to see the newspaper reports on February 25, so I investigated right away. I discovered that the term ‘tax evasion’ was used instead of the correct term, ‘tax revision declaration.’ This was resolved in December of last year. A difference of opinion lead to this misunderstanding, and we felt the responsibility to issue a correction.

It has been said (and I believe) that the true quality of a producer is in his work, and no one will accept a fake. In other words, you can see one’s real feelings and thoughts in what they produce.

At present, I am wrestling with the production of a telefeature to be broadcast next spring, to be followed by a theatrical movie. I am looking forward to seeing all of you through these works.

We sincerely thank you for your encouraging letters and phone calls.

– Yamato producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki

One can only speculate why Nishizaki felt such an intimate clarification was necessary, but after reading it there can be no doubt of the great importance he placed in full and open communication with his fan base.

It was only the beginning of a wild year, which included the production of The New Voyage and Star Blazers. The club magazine was the first source of information for these and Academy’s two non-Yamato TV productions, Blue Noah and Maeterlinck’s Blue Bird. Neither was well-covered by other media and are remembered now only by hardcore fans, but are forever preserved in the pages of the club magazine.

Naturally, it was also a major source of news for Be Forever in 1980. The fan club organized a whirlwind of promotional events and the magazine closely followed the busy promotional campaign throughout the summer. A special issue (#17) was published in July 1980 just before the premiere. Other studios had gotten their own fan clubs off the ground by this time; Toei, Tatsunoko, and Osamu Tezuka’s Mushi Productions followed in the wake of the Yamato fan club, and there was an official Lupin III club as well, but none had the momentum or passion of the Yamato club membership, which came out in droves for the massive Be Forever promotional campaign.

Transient fans had withdrawn from the club following Yamato 2, causing the membership to dip. But the magazine estimated a turnout of around 2.2 million fans for Be Forever and a box office take of 2.5 billion yen plus a distribution profit of 1.3 billion yen.

Above: fan club headquarters circa 1980

Putting that into some perspective, Akira Kurosawa’s Kagemusha was the number 1 film in Japan that year with a take of 27 billion yen. An animated Doraemon tie-in movie placed at number 4 with 15 billion yen. As far as domestic films went, Be Forever placed at number 7. The Empire Strikes Back earned 32 billion yen in Japan that year, and Star Trek the Motion Picture brought in 11 billion. (To roughly translate those figures into American dollars, divide by 100. 1 billion yen would be about 10 million dollars.)

Turbulence

With all this momentum, there was no reason to expect a rough ride with the broadcast of Yamato III in the fall, but that’s exactly what happened. The newly hyper-competitive atmosphere of anime on TV had pushed expectations through the roof, and when the ratings came in unexpectedly low in November, the Yomiuri network cut their commitment in half. 50 episodes were dropped to 25 and Nishizaki was suddenly faced with a challenge he didn’t expect.

Massive chunks of the story were excised, damaging the licensing value and resulting in a loss of sponsorship revenue. This evidently cut far deeper into Yamato business than it first appears on the surface. Over the course of few months, the names Academy and Office Academy disappeared. Fan club magazine #18 was the last Yamato product to carry that name, which was replaced by “Nishizaki Music Publishing” for two issues, and then by “West Cape Corporation.”

In keeping with his desire to inform the fans at every turn, Nishizaki wrote another insert letter for the February ’81 club magazine which was deemed important enough to also send out as a separate mailing. It read as follows:

To all Yamato fans

From Producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki

To everyone who loves and supports Space Battleship Yamato: thanks to your enthusiastic support, Yamato is about to reach the tenth year since production began. Between all of our productions, it seems like I have had no time to eat or sleep.

The story of Kodai and Yuki is that of the young generation, and also myself in the 1970s. Needless to say, Yamato is a drama of human beings who face circumstances that threaten to crush their humanity, but their spirit is revived by dreams of love and a passionate spirit that sings out to the entire universe. It is a story that breaks new ground in science-fiction.

They showed a workmanship in story and music which had not previously been seen in anime (especially in feature films) that was universally appealing. I am very proud to have achieved these works.

Unfortunately, however, some unanticipated problems have arisen in my company with regard to Yamato production. You may have read about this in newspapers or magazines. I could say that some of the clumsiness is the fault of others whom I trusted, but ultimately the responsibility belongs to me.

Therefore, I have made many efforts to solve these problems in ways that everyone could understand. This resulted in the creation of West Cape Corporation, and we can now move forward with the assurance of future production activity.

Everyone, Speaking honestly, nothing like this has happened in my life before now. Some may have said that it was over for both Nishizaki and Yamato, but we are both in good health.

From March 14th, in response to your many voices, there will be a revival of both The New Voyage and Be Forever Yamato. In the summer of next year (1982) we will commemorate the anniversary of Yamato‘s birth with a “final chapter,” which we are now encouraged to produce as a theatrical blockbuster. Everyone will be able to enjoy it together; the current fans, of course, but also those who may accompany their parent or sweetheart to a grand, luxurious theatre.

Everyone, It is true that I am the maker of Yamato, but your enthusiastic support is more important. Yamato could not fly without the power of its fans.

Some have seen the new Mobile Suit Gundam films and denigrate Yamato by comparison. When The New Voyage and Be Forever are revived on March 14, let’s all prove otherwise with our enthusiasm.

Regardless of the hit that forced the end of one company and the beginning of another, the fan club magazine didn’t miss a beat and Final Yamato pre-production began almost immediately after Yamato III‘s conclusion in April 1981. The club headquarters had again relocated (presumably with the rest of the company) to Tokyo’s Asakasa ward.

Coverage of Final Yamato‘s development got underway in the June ’81 club magazine, which was now the only steady provider of Yamato news since the anime specialty magazines had their hands full with countless other productions. This positioned the club magazine to be the go-to source for just about everything that occurred over the following year. Final Yamato was taking longer to write than everyone thought, and the window of opportunity for it to be released in ’82 quickly closed.

So instead of a new movie, Nishizaki and West Cape went overboard to give the fans a whole different Yamato experience, a nationwide tour called the Fan Gatherings. There were 20 stops on the tour throughout the month of August in which fans learned how Final Yamato was shaping up and were asked to share their thoughts.

A special ‘Message Film’ was produced specifically for these meetings, which included the original 1974 pilot film and messages from key members of the production staff members. Though it was well-received by the fans, it had one deficit in that the original soundtrack of the pilot film was not heard. The temp music and narration was replaced by BGM from the first TV series. (Collector’s note: this edit was included as a bonus in the first VHS release of series 1, and the original sound was eventually restored for the 1990 Bandai/Emotion LD box set. This version can be seen on our documentary, The Making of an Anime Legend.)

Fan club headquarters circa 1982, as depicted in the ’82 ‘Message Film.’

From the end of the Fan Gathering tour, another half-year still stretched ahead before Final Yamato would arrive. The club magazine kept everyone as up to date as possible on its production, presenting art designs, storyboards, and plot details alongside interviews with the staff and coverage of such events as the Grand Festival Concert a few days before the movie premiere.

This, of course, brought the production years to a close and (as we know now) an end to the story of Space Battleship Yamato.

But from inside 1983, it didn’t look like it was even close to being over with. The fan club was still going full-tilt and had many more active years ahead. What did they have to focus on, with no more Yamato stories in the works? Well, that’s where this history gets really interesting.

Continue to part 2

Above: envelopes from fan club headquarters, undoubtedly the most welcome sight in a fan’s mailbox.
Below: the foldout “Welcome Letter” for new club members.

Related reading:

Space Battleship Yamato “Fancy Goods”
Space Battleship Yamato publishing
Farewell to Yamato “Fancy Goods”
Farewell to Yamato publishing
The New Voyage publishing
Be Forever Yamato “Fancy Goods”
Be Forever Yamato publishing
Final Yamato “Fancy Goods”
Final Yamato publishing
Fan Club magazine index part 1
The 1982 Message Film (with transcript)

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