The Party Faithful

Yamato Party 2009: An Eyewitness Report

by Tim Eldred

Part 1: Japan, May 3rd

A room full of about 300 Yamato fans starts singing that classic theme. It’s the end of the day, and this is a ritual they’ve enjoyed since 1984. This time there are a couple foreigners in their midst: Andrea Controzzi and myself, who have traveled from different parts of the globe (Italy and California respectively) to see one of these legendary events in person. We’ve been coping with the language barrier all day, but at last here’s something that transcends words. We know this song, we’ve belted it out on many occasions. We memorized the Japanese long ago and can throw it down with ease.

The first verse is the one heard in the anime’s opening title. We know the second from its release on record and CD. We’re bringing the plane in for a well-practiced landing…but then the Japanese fans loft it back up and start singing verse number 3!

We glance at each other, a look of “what the” in our eyes, and as we listen in amazement here comes verse 4! It seems even after 30 years we still have things to learn from the party faithful.

This was just one of many memorable moments at Yamato Party 2009, a single-day, all-Space Battleship Yamato event held roughly once a year in Wakoshi, a satellite of Tokyo. The chairman, Masaru Enomoto, is the unofficial leader of the Yamato fan community, a member of the “Real Time” generation who watched the episodes on TV, saw the movies in the cinema, and reddened his hands with applause at concerts during the production years. Formerly known as the top Yamato collector in the entire country (until he sold off most of his acquisitions), he now pours his boundless passion and energy into this one event, and you feel it from the moment you step into Sun Azaria Hall.

The small lobby is abuzz with activity. Cosplayers immediately catch your eye–a Dessler and a Starsha are soaking up the flashbulbs–and various colorful trinkets surround the nerve center at registration. It’s a meager 600 yen (about $6.00) to enter. Just drop 900 for a handsome program book (shown above right) and you’re part of Japanese Yamato fandom. It’s an aging fandom, as evidenced by a nearby play area for children whose parents have gone off to chat about their favorite cartoons.

There’s a doujinshi [fanzine] library going all the way back to the early years, a TV showing round-the-clock videos, a 2007 pachinko game someone rescued from recycling, and numerous fans in small groups, catching up and sharing whatever’s on their mind about a favorite character. One group of three respectable Japanese women (somewhere in their later forties, it looks like) is pointed out as the Mamoru Kodai [Alex Wildstar] fan club. This is probably the first chance they’ve had to see each other in person since the death of Mamoru’s voice actor, so it’s a poignant day for them.

I put my name in at the reception table (as I was instructed to do in advance) and I’m outfitted with a complementary press badge, then asked to wait. A few moments later, a red-clad fireplug of a guy bursts into the room, looking like he’s in the middle of a marathon. “TIM!” It’s Masaru Enomoto, and though he doesn’t speak a word of English and I know only rudimentary Japanese, we have a bond from the moment we lay eyes on each other.

Above left is me with chairman Masaru Enomoto in his freshly-minted Yamato 2 pachinko happi.
Above right, Andrea makes a dashing Kodai with one of the resident cosplayers.
See a photo gallery of all the cosplayers in action here. See more goings-on in the lobby here.

It’s the same with everyone here. This is the seventh Japanese city Andrea and I have been to in six days, and until this moment we haven’t really felt much of a connection with any of the people we’ve been around; just the overwhelming need to get wherever you’re going at any given moment. Here, it’s different. Everyone is here for one purpose that makes language secondary: to celebrate their passion.

Beyond the lobby is the main room, an auditorium about the right size for community theatre with a stage and rows of chairs. TV monitors are positioned strategically so you have a good view wherever you’re sitting. Soundtrack music fills in the background as everyone makes a slow circle around the perimeter where tables are piled high with fan-made products; trinkets, drawings, a smattering of pottery and jewelry, and the engine that keeps it all going: doujinshi.

A row of sellers offers homemade Yamato items of all sort. Shown at center is a collection of chopstick sleeves divided up by crew colors and planet-tipped stirrers featuring both Iscandar and Gamilas. There’s even a little something for that little fan you made yourself.

As described in detail here, doujinshi are the vehicle through which the most skilled fan circles express themselves; fanzines full of homemade comics (some serious, others played for laughs), text stories, and journalism. They aren’t terribly different from the website you’re reading now, except that they’re on paper and the quality is all over the map. Beginner doujinshi are parked right next to others that measure up to anything you’ll find in professional manga. It’s creative democracy at its finest. If you’ve got some organizational ability and access to resources, nothing stands in your way. This was realized early on by the first generation of Yamato fans back in 1975 who were determined to keep their favorite anime alive, and their legacy abides here.

Click here to meet some of the fans whose work was for sale at the event. (Or use the link at the end of this page if you can wait until then.)

Throughout the day, Enomoto takes the stage in his Captain’s uniform. It’s not the one you’re thinking of, though. Remember, these are fans who thrive on minutiae. Captain Okita was seen at the end of episode 4 wearing a normal white crew uniform with black markings rather than his peacoat. That’s what Enomoto wears while serving as Master of Ceremonies. The schedule is peppered with a couple staged events per hour with general milling about during the intermissions. There’s a trivia game, a bingo game based on character names (you fill up a card with the names of your choice, which are then called out by the audience), and a couple of “Mini Concert” interludes.

I made my way partly around the room and found myself at a table of female fans. One of them, Ayano Fujiwara, had about as much English as I had Japanese, so we were able to converse a bit beyond the norm. (Just about all of them know about Star Blazers, by the way, and brought it up as a reference point when I introduced myself–but almost none had enough knowledge of English to discuss it in detail.) Ayano explained that she and her table-mates were getting ready for a concert later and asked me to look forward to it.

I’d had only one previous opportunity to hear any Yamato music performed live, and that was on my first trip to Japan, August 2007. I attended an anime song concert and watched Isao Sasaki himself slam home the opening theme. Now I was going to hear some actual score played by fans. But there was something even more special to witness first.

Enomoto introduced a special guest: a grey-haired gentleman named Shinji Iwamoto, who had come over from Yamato Studio. If that reference goes over your head, pause here for a moment.

Yamato Studio. Where Yoshinobu Nishizaki is currently producing the new Yamato movie. For real. Yamato Resurrection: currently scheduled for theatrical release in Japan on December 12. (Read more news about it here and here.) That was surprising enough, until he directed our attention to the TV screens which began rolling 7 minutes of finished footage. It was likely that we were seeing a world premiere.

Galactic spacescapes. The classic “infinity of space” music. A caption tells us it is 2220 AD, 17 years after the Aquarius flood. A massive, angry black hole tears across space heading for Earth.

Title card: Space Battleship Yamato Resurrection Chapter!

The bow of a gigantic EDF flagship enters the screen sporting the English name Blue Noah (a reference the crowd appreciates), and pulls away to be followed by dozens of others. They bear a strong resemblance to the title ship designed by Syd Mead for Yamato 2520, which is a good creative choice in my opinion; as long as it isn’t meant to replace the ship we know and love, it’s perfectly serviceable.

And suddenly, there’s Yamato, lifting off from inside the Aquarius iceberg and bursting out of its surface. We see the crew and the bridge; not identical to their former selves, but close enough. Yamato, Hasshin! Classic soundtrack music plays out as souped-up Cosmo Tigers (called Cosmo Pulsars) launch into battle; the pilots are in the classic uniforms. Cannons fire, an enemy engages. We hear Comet Empire music, but this is definitely someone new, ships and fighters that look utterly unlike previous foes. They’ve got a massive, almost biomechanical space fortress that powers up to fire its megaweapon…and we’re out.

Of the many Yamato-related things Andrea and I anticipated seeing on this trip, 7 minutes of brand new footage was nowhere on our list. We’ve got mixed reactions; he’s not enthused by the character design (all 5 seconds of it) while I’m overjoyed with the whole thing. The spaceships are all rendered in CG with the toon-shader effect, and as far as I’m concerned it’s flawless. And I know that for the next several months I’m going to wonder how on Earth I can justify spending hundreds of dollars on a plane ticket to see a two-hour film in December.

Part of the stage was filled with vintage merchandise for sale, most of which probably came from the Enomoto collection.

The next event started soon after: an antique auction. This went by pretty quickly with Enomoto holding up about half a dozen pieces of vintage merchandise and the crowd bidding on whatever caught their eye. The most contested item was a hardcover book of Final Yamato symphonic scores, which went for something like $200. If I’d done a better job of learning Japanese numbers, I would have made a play for the last item, an ultra-rare Captain Okita Hero’s Hill statue from Bandai. I definitely could have outbid the 1600 yen finishing price if I were quicker on my feet. Live and learn.

Ayano and her two companions took the stage. They’d switched from fangear to formal wear and took up their instruments; Ayano on piano and the others on violin and French horn. They riffed for a good half hour, spanning one famous piece to the next, finally alighting on the ‘Remember Yamato’ song from The New Voyage. The crowd went right for it, singing loud and proud. It wasn’t pitch-perfect, but that was hardly the point. I’m reminded that there’s an actual big-time Yamato concert coming to the Tokyo Symphony on May 16, and since this was as close as I would get, I appreciated this moment all the more.

Break time came, and with it a star sighting in the lobby. Keisuke Masunaga, character designer for the Playstation games, was hunched in a corner surrounded by gawking fans as he effortlessly whipped out one sketch after another. Andrea is particularly fond of the games (he vastly prefers the PS2 games over the original movies), so it was quite rewarding to watch his eyes get big when I tipped him off. It was thanks to some lucky timing that I was able to do so–I could only recognize him because of an interview I’d translated for the April 1st update to this website. The wheels started turning in Andrea’s head; he was now a man with a goal.

Keisuke Masunaga (at left) throws down a quick Kodai sketch for an appreciative fan.
Our new friend Anton (at right) focuses with laser-beam intensity on the character bingo game.

I had something else in mind. Earlier in the day I’d noticed one other non-Japanese face in the crowd; a tall, blond, intense-looking gaijin who was the walking definition of ‘loner.’ I assumed American, though European would also have been a good guess; there have been other occasions in Japan when I addressed a fellow tourist in English only to hear confused German in response. Either way, he didn’t look like someone with any friends in the room, so I decided to break the ice and see if I could change that.

“Do you speak English,” I asked, holding out my hand.

“Yes, but I am Russian.” He could have said Martian and I wouldn’t have been more surprised.

His name was Anton Kholodov, and his command of English was extraordinary, even though he denied it repeatedly. He explained that he was living in Japan temporarily to pursue his goals of performing music (trumpet) and drawing manga. He’d somehow managed to see Star Blazers and Yamato on home video while living in Siberia–which he insisted is not as cold as most people think–and was instantly captivated by it. What’s more, he’s a regular reader of and was quite happy to meet me. He explained that the site makes him feel less alone, which is exactly what it’s here for.

I have to admit that, even in a room of like-minded fans all responding to the same passions, the language barrier can still be hard to break through. Now that I’d found another out-of-towner, one who spoke fluent English and knew Yamato back to front, the day took on a new complexion. Andrea joined in, and pretty soon we were fast friends. This drew some attention from other corners of the room, and after a while Japanese fans were requesting photos with us. Like I said, it was a day of surprises.

Next up was the “Video Attraction” event, an hour or so of clips and mash-ups. Footage had been culled from various other anime programs with Yamato homages (including the scene-for-scene spaceship launch from Nadia) and caught plenty of appreciative laughs. This idea was turned on its head with pseudo opening titles in which Yamato footage was cut together to match the pacing of opening titles from other anime. In one case, footage was cut to match a well-known, live-action Japanese police drama. The character mix was similar to Yamato, and the crowd reaction told us how well the maker of this particular video had nailed those similarities. (Imagine a side-by-side comparison of Star Trek with Hill Street Blues, and you’ll get the idea.)

After the videos concluded, Andrea made a beeline for Keisuke Masunaga and put in his request for a sketch: Captain Hijikata [Gideon]. Masunaga pulled off his glasses and grabbed his face. There was a big “ooooooh” from the onlookers. There was a sudden scramble for reference material–Andrea had managed to pick a character Masunaga hadn’t memorized. Fortunately for him, someone had some Playstation stills on his laptop and came to the rescue. So Masunaga’s reference was…a Masunaga drawing.

It was after this that Anton reminded us of Masunaga’s other design credit: the Galaxy Railways TV series. Which happens to the be the only anime Andrea likes more than Yamato. This is why we need time machines, people.

As the day wound down and some tables began to clear, Enomoto and the rest of the staff gathered on stage for a somber event: the Hero’s Hill tribute. I’d seen it listed in the program, but only after it started did I realize its purpose–to pay tribute to those members of the Yamato family who had passed away since the last Yamato Party. Since it had been nearly a five-year gap, the list was long and painful. In some cases, interview and funeral footage was played. In others, scenes of a particular character were strung together to honor a voice actor.

This brought a hard reminder that almost the entire music contingent of the Yamato family is no longer with us. Composers Hiroshi Miyagawa and Kentaro Haneda, along with lyricist Yu Aku, are gone. So are the voice actors for Ota [Eager], Mamoru [Alex Wildstar] and Miru [Morta]. There were others, but those are the ones who drew the most audience response. It didn’t help that Enomoto’s number two man had been wearing his Miru costume all day long.

With the tributes over, the Hero’s Hill scene was replayed from Farewell to Yamato and the audience joined in, standing and saluting upon Dr. Sado’s command. The moment sunk in deep, and I felt a little sheepish about snapping my camera right then…but I had a job to do: show the world what real Yamato fans look like. It was hard to get any more real than that.

This was followed by the Yamato Party closing ceremony in which we learned there were two extra verses to the theme. The video that accompanied this sing-along was quite cleverly done. Verses one and two were timed to the opening titles of series 1 and series 2 with captions underneath. Right on cue, the title for Yamato III came up for verse 3 and Final Yamato covered verse 4. When it was done, Andrea and I immediately pounced on his friend Yutaka Shiratori (another English speaker), who explained that the other two verses first appeared decades ago in an issue of Adventure King magazine. They never made it into an official Yamato recording, but the fans adopted them into their hearts and made it a tradition to sing the entire song year after year.

Click here to see the complete version of the song with an English translation.

I’ve been researching and writing about Space Battleship Yamato for the better part of the last 30 years, and there’s nothing I like more than learning my job isn’t over yet. It’s been 25 years since the first Yamato Party, and the fans have done far more with it than I first expected. They’ve literally made Yamato their own, infused it with their own sensibilities and traditions. They draw continuous inspiration and return continuous energy. I felt right at home among them, and hope more visitors will be drawn in after reading these words.

Yamato draws men from around the world into a brotherhood that knows no borders.
From left to right: Andrea (Italy), Anton (Russia), Tim (America), and Enomoto-san (Japan).

Part 2: The Party Master

The first Yamato Party was held in 1984 so that fan circles who made doujinishi [fanzines] could gather to sell them in a meeting specifically for Yamato. Doujinshi makers were active at Comiket back then and many people went to meet those who wrote and drew the material. However, there were a lot of different works there, and it was not an effective place for a Yamato fan. That’s why Yamato Party was born. We added attractions such as a quiz and video screenings and gave fans a chance to network.

YP ’84 met its expectations and was very popular, as was YP ’85. There was no event in 1986 for various reasons, but it revived in 1987 and we were asked to continue it every year thereafter. We missed 1998, but held it earlier in 1999, then consecutively every year afterward and linked the hearts of the fans from the 20th Century into the 21st.

The environment surrounding Yamato has had sudden, busy changes, but the situation of the fans has never changed; it has always been enjoyable, as represented by Yamato Party.

-Masaru Enomoto
Yamato Party Executive Committee Chairman
(an excerpt from the introduction to Yamato Party Memorial, 2002)

This interview with Mr. Enomoto was conducted by email prior to Yamato Party 2009…

The first Yamato Party was in 1984. How has the event changed over time?

Its basic purpose was to be a place of exchange between fans and to sell doujinshi. That has not changed. What has changed are the types of attractions and the style of doujinshi. In the beginning, such books were the work of fan clubs that were represented by one individual. These days, they are created more as personal journals. As for the attractions, in early years we would have a quiz and show videos. We have added more variety over time, and now we regularly have a Yamato Quiz and play Yamato Bingo.

How much attendance did you get at the start and how much do you get now?

The committee doesn’t have accurate data to answer this question, since we didn’t keep records, but I think Yamato Party ’84 had around 200 attendees, and now I would guess we have 300-350.

What is the average age of attendees then and now?

At YP84, teens and twenty-year-olds were the focus. I think the average was somewhere in the younger twenties. Now the focus is 30s and 40s, averaging in the late thirties. This is because many people from the early years are continuing to participate.

Did you try to do things in earlier Yamato Parties that did not work?

There was little understanding of “otaku” culture then, so when we applied to rent a facility, we had to spend a lot of time explaining ourselves.

Did you ever have guests from the production staff or official fan club?

After the official fan club closed, a symposium was held at Yamato Party in 1993. Yoko Asagami, the voice actress for Yuki once appeared as a guest, and the storyteller Ryuichi Hitoshi once performed the story of Yamato for us.

How often do you have a Yamato Party?

This is our 19th year. Here is the complete record:

YP1: 1984/8/5 (number of circles 23)
YP2: 1985/8/4 (number of circles 36)
YP3: 1987/8/30 (number of circles 29)
YP4: 1988/8/21 (number of circles 34)
YP5: 1989/8/20 (number of circles 27)
YP6: 1990/9/2 (number of circles 26)
YP7: 1991/9/15 (number of circles 20)
YP8: 1992/8/30 (number of circles 23)
YP9: 1993/8/29 (number of circles 30)
YP10: 1994/8/28 (number of circles 30)
YP11: 1995/9/3 (number of circles 39)
YP12: 1996/9/15-16 (number of circles 23-34)
YP13: 1997/8/31 (number of circles 40)
YP14: 1999/2/7 (number of circles 31)
YP15: 2000/10/22 (number of circles 30)
YP16: 2001/10/21 (number of circles 28)
YP17: 2003/11/23 (number of circles 35)
YP18: 2004/9/26 (number of circles 35)
YP19: 2009/5/3 (number of circles 34)

Why were some years skipped?

We weren’t able to reserve our usual meeting place for the dates we wanted. But I still solicited contributions and made program books [in those years].

Was there any relationship between Yamato Party and Yamato World?

Some of the Yamato Party circles and volunteers participated in Yamato World. It was held in Osaka [Yamato Party is in Tokyo]. I think it was held only twice.

Do Japanese fans have a most favorite and least favorite Yamato movie or series?

I have been circulating questionnaires about this since 1991. The most popular is definitely the first TV series, followed by Farewell to Yamato. The least popular is Yamato 2520.

What topics come up most frequently between Japanese fans?

The initial fans of Farewell to Yamato usually rejected Yamato 2. After that, the revival of Captain Okita in Final Yamato was very controversial. Currently, there aren’t any major disagreements because everyone has their own personal enjoyment and no one can deny the values of another person.

Most of the Japanese doujinshi that we see contain manga. Do some contain text stories (“fanfic”) like American fanzines?

There were a lot of novelizations in the old days written by many good writers. I don’t know the term ‘fanfic,’ but there are a lot of short stories and poems. These days there is a lot of writing in many online blogs.

Which character is more popular with Japanese fans, Kodai or Dessler? Or someone else?

That’s a complicated question. In the 1980s, it was definitely Kodai and Yuki, but Yamamoto [Hardy] of the Cosmo Tigers has a deeply-rooted fan base. On the enemy side, I think Dessler is the favorite.

Does everyone in Japan have a memory of Yamato, or is it fading?

Most of the people like me who were born in the 1960s remember it well. In addition, many young people continue to become new fans. There are many older fans who show it to their children.

Has Yamato dominated and destroyed your life as much as ours?

It may be so, but the extent varies widely. It is certainly related to the length of our involvement; most of us have lived with Yamato for more than half our lives.

Did you join the official Yamato fan club?

Yes, when it was founded in 1977. Before that, I was not active in any clubs.

Did you or your staff see Yamato in original broadcast or movie theatres?

People of my age were in the “real-time” generation. Most of the people around my age participated in most of the events. Since I was a member of the official fan club, I was particularly concerned with them.

What is your favorite Yamato possession?

At my peak, I had thousands of them, but I sold many of them at Yamato Parties, and now the number is quite small. What I liked most were the animation cels. Currently, I like the new pachinko game.

What was your opinion of Yamato 2520, Great Yamato, and Dai Yamato Zero Go?

Yamato 2520 is a legitimate work. I think the new Yamato movie for 2009 will be better, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Do you sing Yamato songs in karaoke?

I don’t do so as often as I used to, but all fans can sing the theme.

Do you have to hide your passion for Yamato when you are not with other fans?

For many years, the cooperation of my family and friends has been indispensable. But it has no relationship to my job, so I don’t advertise it there.

If you could go back in time and change one thing about Yamato, what would it be?

This may differ from the intent of your question, but I would have tried to restrain some of the actions of Mr. Nishizaki so that Yamato could have continued for a longer time, like Mobile Suit Gundam.

What other anime titles are your top favorites?

I am not interested in current anime very much, but others my age and in their 30s watch some of them eagerly. Could I say Lupin III was a likeable rival to Yamato in the old days? Besides anime, I like the many Star Trek series. I think a “Next Generation” should have been made for Yamato like it was for the Enterprise.

Have you seen Star Blazers? What is your impression?

It is basically a good story even if the words are different. But I don’t understand English, so I don’t know if that version reflects the right sensibilities. But I think the cultural differences are minor.

Do you have contact with fans in other countries?

Not in particular, but some of my friends who are Yamato fans do live abroad. We have more overseas contact thanks to the rise of the internet.

Do you have a message for US fans?

Unfortunately, Yamato has declined in Japan, but it can be reborn if many enthusiastic fans exist [around the world]. We still root for Yamato as much as possible, and if you support it in America, please communicate with us! We are all Captain Okita’s children!

The End

Visit the Yamato Party blogsite (English version) here

Continue to our Meet-the-Fans page

Step back in time and visit with Yamato fans (including Mr. Enomoto) in 1990

Yamato Party was the culmination of Tim and Andrea’s week-long trek across Japan in search of Yamato-related places. Click here for a full account of Yamatour ’09!

BONUS: the Yamato Party staff clowning around in manga form, from the 1998 program book. (Reads from right to left)

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