Animage #409 Interview: Giants of Yamato

Animage magazine got its start in the midst of “Yamato Fever” in 1978, when the entire world of fandom was buzzing about Farewell to Yamato and was desperate for any and all news (as presented in our Farewell to Yamato Time Machine). Yamato was the cover story for Animage‘s first two issues, and though nothing of the kind has happened in recent years, the editorial staff has never forgotten their roots.

Issue #409, published in June 2012, was the first to include coverage of Yamato 2199 with two articles: an interview with Kodai’s voice actor (seen here) and a conversation between two of Space Battleship Yamato‘s greatest luminaries, Yutaka Izubuchi and Yasuhiko Yoshikazu. The significance of this pairing would not have been lost on even a casual fan; both men have deep connections to the saga, since Yoshikazu was its most prolific storyboard artist and Izubuchi was a designer for Yamato III before ultimately spearheading Yamato 2199.

Something else they have in common is their abbreviated English signatures. Yasuhiko Yoshikazu typically signs his work as “Yas,” and Izubuchi often signs his as “Buchi.” In the spirit of their mutual candor, that’s how they are named in this interview. So strap in; the discussion dives directly into the deep end of Yamato history and surfaces on the cutting edge of today, with stories only these two could tell.

Special thanks to Tsuneo Tateno for translation support.

Special 34th Anniversary of the first issue

Space Battleship Yamato 2199 will be shown in theaters in seven chapters. Its director, Yutaka Izubuchi, together with Yasuhiko Yoshikazu from the staff of the first Yamato TV series. Two people talk all about Yamato for the special 34th anniversary of this magazine. The brave figure of Yamato was on the cover of Animage‘s first issue!

Conversation: Yutaka Izubuchi X Yasuhiko Yoshikazu

The future of Japanese Animation from the viewpoint of Yamato

This conversation was carried out in Shinjuku on May 18. Mr. Yoshikazu appreciated Yamato 2199 beforehand to prepare for the talk. How will Mr. Izubuchi respond as a director? The passion from 38 years ago revives now!

An intense, unique producer

Interviewer: Mr. Yoshikazu, as an original staff member, what is your impression of Yamato 2199 Chapter 1?

Yas: It was good and very beautiful, especially the CG. The feeling of tragedy and heroism before the launch of Yamato is superb. I have seen the most delicious part. (Laughs) I definitely want to see how Yamato will develop from here on.

Buchi: I’d also like to hear about the early days. What was the process for you to first get involved with Yamato?

Yas: At that time, Noboru Ishiguro was in charge of the storyboards on Zerotester. I went in [to Sunrise Studio at the time] and though I had only done about ten storyboards, he said, “he doesn’t have a lot of experience, but he’s good.” I thought it was Mr. Ishiguro who recommended me.

Buchi: But it was different.

Yas: Very recently I learned that it was [production manager] Yoshihiro Nozaki who recommended me. So I was summoned to the studio in Sakuradai and saw the pilot film, and I was amazed to see what they had made on their own. A spaceship was coming forward as the background was receding. It seemed to be made by an optical composite. Producer [Yoshinobu] Nishizaki kept getting angry in front of the staff, saying, “This is no good!” I thought, “what is this person complaining about?” So I was surprised twice. That was my first impression.

Buchi: What was the problem with the film?

Yas: I think it was his self-display, in his way. He didn’t say, “You did great work” to his staff, because he thought it would interfere with the advancement of their skills. He acted angry to motivate them to work with greater effort. “Being on his staff is quite a job,” I thought.

Buchi: Was it difficult for you, too?

Yas: No, I was never yelled at. I only did storyboards, and I didn’t go into the office at Sakuradai very much.

Interviewer: You participated in the storyboards from Episode 6 on, and you were responsible for the storyboards on about half the episodes.

Yas: My first storyboard got a lot of praise, and I became a regular. Even though I changed a lot from the script, I don’t remember being yelled at.

Interviewer: I’ve heard that Mr. Nishizaki liked your art very much in those days.

Yas: But I hadn’t studied properly, and I was still a beginner at storyboarding. The assistant director (Kazunori) Tanahashi rejected my work, saying, “The imaginary line is out of order,” and I asked, “Imaginary line? What is that?” (Laughs)

[Translator’s note: the “imaginary line” is one that connects the characters in a scene. To preserve consistent screen direction, the camera must remain on one side of that line.]

In the latter half, Mr.Eiichi Yamamoto joined in the checking of my work and he also gave me detailed complaints, like “untidy.” Mr. Nishizaki was well-matched with Mr.Yamamoto and often said, “do it as Eiichi says.”

Buchi: Even at the times Nishizaki came to a creative deadlock on Yamato III, he seemed to go back and consult with Mr. Yamamoto, and it seemed like he expressed Yamamoto’s opinion as his own.

Yas: That was Nishizaki’s style. When a meeting came up, various staff members like Mr. Yamamoto and I were called in. When the meetings got deadlocked, many staff members other than Eiichi, including me, were called up. Then he would tell me, “You look like you have a complaint. Tell me what you want to say, in written form.” I did as he asked, and in the next meeting, he would say, “This is my idea–,” but actually it was MY idea. (Laughs) Various other people probably went through the same thing. But he accepted ideas from others anyway, and I think that made him a great producer. Mr. Nishizaki was intimidating and disorganized, but I didn’t hate him. He was a good person. The world is changed by unique people who are able to see differently.

Buchi: My impression is the same; I didn’t dislike him, either. He was troublesome as a colleague at work, but he was a very interesting character to watch as a bystander. He was known as “overconfident,” but actually he wasn’t. I saw him show a lack of confidence, and it made him kind’a charming.

Yas: Indeed. From his attitude, anybody could see that he wanted to say, “I’m in trouble, somebody help me.” (Laughs) So I wondered, “is it better to say something to him?” It was very interesting.

Buchi: I was 21 years old when I worked with Mr.Nishizaki the first time, but he openly competed with a brat like me. Like, “I see your opinion, but this is my way!” I opposed him with a firm attitude, saying, “But my way is better!” It made his eyebrow tremble.

Yas: Oh, yes, I remember it well. The sound of the voice is the same, too. It was a deep baritone.

Buchi: There were a lot of people in the meeting who would never want to admit defeat. He tended to ask others, “What’s your opinion of this kid?” And, as Mr. Yoshikazu said, he sometimes asked me, “What do you think?” separately.

Demands that went beyond common Anime

Interviewer: Yamato was revolutionary for the audience, but what was it like for you and the staff?

Yas: Yamato‘s designs were great. I was sincerely impressed, and I recognized Studio Nue’s greatness once again. I thought those enormous designs were too good to go unpublished. I liked the concept that the ceiling of Gamilas looks like octopus traps, so I drew it for the first shot of Episode 6. [Storyboard and finished scene shown above.] And he praised me; “You understand the design very well.” Then I deeply understood; “I see, it’s a kind of work that has to use designs with full detail.”

Buchi: The policy was to show details properly.

Yas: Also, he often told me, “show it with a long shot.” In those days, storyboards of robot anime tended to be repeat bust-shots, such as close-ups of a robot’s arm, launching it with blasting visual and sound effects, then expressing explosions with cycling flashes. But in Yamato, they directed me to “show it with long shots using plenty of time.” So he was very glad when we meaninglessly inserted 180 degree turns into a long shot. In Yamato, we were encouraged to use laborious techniques that were prohibited in other works.

Buchi: Kazutaka Miyatake of Studio Nue said the same thing. Sunrise complained that “there are too many lines” in his design work on Zerotester, and after he learned to decrease the lines, Mr. Nishizaki said “put in more lines” on Yamato.

Yas: It was unusual to see so many lines in a design. The animators got angry and said, “this isn’t funny!” They probably didn’t think about how it would have to be carried out by others.

Buchi: With the accumulation of challenges like “mecha things,” it became revolutionary for its genre.

Yas: I thought, “at some point it should be me who gets to animate,” and the saddle finally fell on me for the last scenes of Farewell to Yamato. (Laughs)

Buchi: As for Farewell, you certainly got to illustrate Kodai and Yuki for the poster. [shown below]

Yas: I hadn’t yet drawn with paint, so I flatly refused it at first. I reluctantly painted it on drawing paper, and because of the water tension the paper became bumpy. (Laughs) I also painted a wide view of Yamato, but in the end only the faces were used.

Buchi: When you were in charge of the storyboards for Farewell, did you change any of the script?

Yas: I definitely did, but I can’t remember which parts specifically. You also make changes when you cut storyboards.

Buchi: Yes, although I try to make cuts from the script. But changing one piece of the story can have a rapid chain reaction.

Yas: It’s like the point when you switch trains and cannot go back. Not to diminish a script, but a director thinks about many things differently than a scriptwriter. Even if the written word says “it should be this way,” someone who draws the images will say, “no it doesn’t work well like that.”

Buchi: The script conveys the intent of the production, and sometimes lines [of dialogue] become excessive. The scene may hold together even with no lines.

Yas: Indeed. Concerning animation, I don’t think there can be a perfect script. Of course, even if I say I’m going to switch tracks at this point, the script lays out all the rails in advance. “I’m changing it” is not necessarily said enthusiastically, or just for the sake of making a change.

I’m interested in a prequel rather than a sequel

Buchi: How did you become involved in Yamato 2 for TV?

Yas: It’s not reflected in the credits, but I worked on the series treatment in addition to storyboards. There was a lot of discussion at the time, and all the hard work was really draining. I said, “All of them [the characters] are dead. It’s a fact even if it’s fiction.” I think it was Eiichi Yamamoto who said, “fiction is whatever you like it to be,” and it was quite a surprise. In the end, Hideaki Yamamoto and Keisuke Fujikawa were two great masters of scriptwriting, and we created a series treatment that extended a 2-hour movie to two story arcs for TV.

[Translator’s note: a few years earlier, Yas revealed in a different interview that it was his concept for Yamato to take another grand voyage a la series 1; the direct result of this was the journey to Telezart and back.]

Buchi: The approach to writing a treatment for TV is different from movies. It must have been difficult to rearrange the plot of a movie for TV.

Yas: The most difficult part was how to revive dead people. I’ve said I hate the idea, and unfortunately I was appointed to do that resurrection work.

Buchi: Yamato 2 was the TV version of Farewell, and at first it was basically decided to do it as a remake. Was the TV version meant to end like the movie with everyone dying, and it gradually changed?

Yas: That’s right. Briefly, the first Yamato started as a TV series, and then there was a movie. This time they understood from the beginning that it could do business twice if they went in reverse, so they made a movie first.

Buchi: The first movie version of Yamato was disappointing, since it was a “patchwork” re-edit. So when Mr. Tomino said Mobile Suit Gundam would be “impossible unless you do it as a trilogy,” I understood it well. Like I said before, the grammar of TV and movies is different even though they might look the same, so I guess you had a lot of troubles.

Yas: Will you do a remake of Farewell this time?

Buchi: For now, I don’t intend to. But supposing I should, going through it point by point, I think the approach would be to change it entirely.

Yas: Oh? I see you have a desire to do it. (Laughs)

Buchi: No, no, I only did a light simulation in my head. (Laughs) I’m making 2199 to finish in one series, neat and tidy. But as I make this series, I’m becoming interested in what happened in the days before it, rather than making a sequel. There is the decisive battle between the Earth fleet and Gamilas in the first episode. There must have been some circumstances to go out and fight at Pluto. There was a catalyst for the Earth turning red. There must have been a first contact. And various other things. (Laughs) The imagination swells.

Yas: I’d find that very interesting. Yamato can’t be stopped, even if it doesn’t appear. (Laughs)

Buchi: Therefore, if there is a prequel I’d definitely want to do it. There’s a fleet, the individual ships, the organization and various people, lots of variety. If the world of Yamato could be seen from various viewpoints, it would make for a very interesting story.

Arranged for today’s audience

Yas: I’d like to hear how much you’ve rearranged Yamato 2199. This might become a painful story. For example, in the episode with the space mines there was the expression, “tilt the ship to avoid them,” and when I talked with [SF author] Haruka Takachiho about it, he complained that “there is no up or down in space.” (Laughs)

Buchi: The episode with the Alpha Star is similar to the space mines; Dessler and the Gamilas watch as Yamato gets caught in a trap. Therefore, the interesting thing we’re doing with the Gamilas side this time is to condense the two without changing their essence.

Yas: So you’re not just retracing the original 26 episodes. That’s the natural way to go.

Buchi: Concerning the tempo of the old days, it’s likely that the audience would watch some parts and say “this is boring.” We also had Yamato launch in two episodes rather than three this time. If Yamato, which is in the leading role, takes too long to appear these days, they’d give up on it. It may be said that it should have launched in Episode 1, but it was still being built, so that wasn’t possible. But taking three episodes to launch gives a feeling that the tempo is too slow, so we wanted to create conditions that a young person of today would watch. My friend who loves the Yamato of the old days often said, “That technique [to create intentional delays, slowness or a pause in a scene] was necessary.”

Yas: At the preview I said, “It felt a little quick,” then Yuuki Masami who sat in front of me said, “Originally in Episode 3, there was a scene where he said, ‘Captain, it doesn’t start!’ ” I told him, “Yeah, I know, I loved it, so…”

Buchi: In order to start the engine quickly, we said that power is supplied from all over the world. It was also a place where I intended to clarify why “only Japanese people ride on Yamato for some reason.” Each country is connected by cables or a network. They support the building of Yamato by supplying materials or information, but physical interaction is difficult between the underground cities, so they couldn’t send people. If we showed them making an organizational error in the startup, it would create two stages of suspense, and delay the pace too much. So we pushed it there with greater tempo and momentum.

Yas: But when you do so in order to make it convincing, other points will pop up one after the other in need of adjustment.

Buchi: Well, they will. It becomes like Whack-a-Mole. (Laughs)

Yas: Although this project began before 3/11 [the 2011 earthquake], I appreciate that you removed the “radiation remover” concept.

Buchi: We decided in the beginning to eliminate “radioactivity” as the reason for Earth’s downfall. To say “radioactivity” is misleading. It’s actually the phenomenon of radiation coming out of radioactive material. Usually in nature it will fade away, so it would probably be strange to show the blue Earth being saved from the red Earth.

Yas: So how did you do it in the end?

Buchi: We decided that Earth would be about to die out from environmental remodeling by Gamilas. We go to Iscandar for a system that can regenerate the destroyed environment.

Yas: If you try to do a remake in earnest, it’s difficult to decide which lies you’ll accept and which lies you won’t. Once you start to rearrange it, it never stops.

Buchi: I had no choice but to sift through it myself. The concept is that the plan for the Wave Engine was sent a year ago, because obviously it’s impossible that a plan would arrive and the finished product would be loaded up onto Yamato a few days later. A starting core couldn’t be made on Earth, so it was finally sent later.

Adopting the changes of the times

Yas: After hearing about how you decided to prepare the arrangement, I understand it well. Also, there were no ordinary citizens on Iscandar and Gamilas. Gamilas should have citizens.

Buchi: An average citizen of Gamilas appears this time and becomes greatly involved in the story.

Yas: Are you making 26?

Buchi: All the scripts are done.

Yas: It’s a very big arrangement. The way of thinking in those days was that the opponent was a hated enemy and had completely different values. For me, it was not convincing.

Buchi: I felt the same at the time, and it seemed strange that we didn’t see any people who were not officers.

Yas: It’s funny. When I was doing storyboards I heard, “that’s where the people live.” Because there was a city there [on Gamilas]. They would get shelled by a battleship. Not good.

Buchi: After Kodai destroyed Gamilas (in Episode 24), Mr. Nishizaki had him say that they should have shown “love” instead, which I though seemed like an excuse for destroying them in battle, after the fact. Then when Kodai grows up and has his showdown with Dessler at the end of Farewell, he doesn’t reflect on that at all. It was hard to swallow.

Yas: That’s how it was then. That’s why the wind blew differently at the time of Gundam. “We won’t do a warp.” “Earth is the stage.” “The opponents are also ordinary people.” “The weapons are like this.” So when I heard Yamato was starting up again, I was worried about what would be done in those ares.

Buchi: When I watched Yamato, in my mind I thought, “Gamilas actually has such people, but the camera is not pointed toward anyone like that.” Therefore, I intend to show them this time.


Vintage fanzine art by Izubuchi

The combination of hand-drawing and CG

Interviewer: 38 years have passed between the original and 2199. What do you think about that, Mr. Yoshikazu?

Yas: As a former animator, I’ve been very worried. As beautiful as CG mecha has become, the movement of characters is departing from the old-fashioned hand-drawn frame. The movement looks so unnatural to a man of the anime industry like me. Sorry, I don’t mean to criticize animators.

Buchi: I believe the movement you’re talking about includes character acting and the “technique” of actions, right?

Yas: As attractive as Nobuteru Yuuki’s characters are, there is a slight sense of incongruity in their motion. Yamato didn’t have subtle acting like Gundam, so we didn’t worry about it too much. Because we’re living with smooth and clean CG work that was inconceivable in the old days, a working animator always has to think about consistency. It must be extremely difficult.

Buchi: I think back to those days when I animated mecha for TV. If you try to do the same thing now, especially in the case of a work like this, there’s no choice but to depend on CG for physical problems. It is a fact that the number of good mecha animators is decreasing.

Yas: The old Yamato has that good deforming from freehand drawing. When it passes in front of the camera and the color pops and swirls, it moves me to tears. Mecha now moves smoothly and cleanly with CG, but character animation is still as limited as ever. I feel sorry for animators.

Buchi: Agreed. Unlike CG, sometimes the unrealistic portion of hand-drawing has a better taste. This is unrelated to our talk of motion, but even if we use CG for vessels in 2199, we add weathering that is appropriate for cel-shading and the solid lines have strength and weakness, like a pencil.

Yas: But the physical motion of a person through the frames is not as smooth. I know it’s like crying for the moon, but I’m feeling sympathy for them rather than complaining. I thought it was a problem that had to be solved.

Buchi: The explosions and special effects of the ships are partially drawn in freehand, too, and there are some shots where the ships are entirely freehand drawings. CG also has the function to drop frames from single to double, but it’s still different from the feeling of hand-drawn animation. [Translator’s note: this refers to the method of “double framing,” or “animating on 2’s” in which an animated character can still look natural to the eye if the same pose is held over two frames. CG, by contrast, calculates motion for each individual frame to mimic the smoothness of live-action.] CG has its own strengths and weaknesses under different circumstances. It’s judged by appearance. I see their efforts to harmonize.

Yas: Using the touch of a pencil to reduce the smoothness of the CG adds to the feeling of freehand drawing. It’s a unique feeling of the Japanese, who have struggled in a limited emvironment, and I think it’s very good. Then, I wonder, what is the conclusion of this matter? Foreign countries freely use CG, but I think Japan is correct not to go there.

Buchi: Rather than modeling and making motion in 3D, I try to give it warmth.

Yas: A handmade feeling is important, after all. I believe there are spaces of imagination in it. It is different with CG that intends to be perfect and thorough. Japanese animation is no match for CG when it comes to that intention.

Buchi: Even with the use of CG, I’d like to aim for a form that embraces the cel anime era. Rather than 3D textures, CG should emulate 2D to the last. Because characters are still in 2D, in the end they should fit nicely when they are in same frame.

Yas: If we change the grade of CG to match the character animation, after trial and error, new anime with a sense of unity could be born.

Buchi: As for you, an anime has been announced for [your manga], Mobile Suit Gundam The Origin.

Yas: I’m not working on it directly, but it is full of complexity and I want the character animators in particular to do their best. I asked for that because it is my primary concern. It’s hard for today’s animators to draw precise and beautiful characters, but it brings a fine performance and imbues them with life. It may sound very arrogant, but I think their effort is sometimes lacking. They have to make an all-out effort to show their heart in a limited environment. CG technology is making an effort to match us, so we should not give up. We can tell a story in a limited environment. That’s what we have proven since the 70s, with Hayao Miyazaki at the top of the list.

The End

Interview composition: Ryusuke Hikawa


Bonus

Mr. Yoshikazu’s single greatest contribution to the Yamato saga was the complete end-to-end storyboard for Farewell to Yamato. Presented here is one small piece of that enormous work, 90 pages of continuous storyboards that cover Yamato‘s bloody battle against the Comet Empire. Click on the titles to view them in sequences of 30 pages.

(Note: the entire storyboard is presented as a bonus feature on the Farewell to Yamato blu-ray disc released in 2012.)

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3


Read a 1982 interview with “Yas” here.

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