Encyclopedia Yamatonica

A Look at Yamato Fact File Magazine

Prior to 2009, the history of Space Battleship Yamato publishing in Japan was already replete with masterworks. For the best “making of” documentation, the deluxe hardcover books from Office Academy/Westcape were unbeatable. The single largest resource on Yamato as a cultural phenomenon was the 83-issue run of the fan club magazine. There were also numerous books (see them in our bibliographies) focused on the internal world of the story with the purpose of cataloguing everything in it.

As of now (late 2011), all the books in that last category pale in comparison with Space Battleship Yamato Official Fact File. If Yamato publishing were divided into three “pillars” (making of, cultural phenom, and encyclopedic) Fact File would easily dominate pillar number three.

De Agostini is an Italian publishing company founded in 1901, now active in 66 countries. That includes Japan, where a prodigious amount of material is created every year. The company is best known for its specialty magazines devoted to all subjects from hobbies to history to crafts to entertainment. One of the formats they have adopted (and which is used by competing publishers as well) is the “file magazine” in which pages from a pre-formatted reference work are published in random order over a set number of issues. Collect every one and you can slowly piece together a massive tome that might otherwise be prohibitively expensive. Think of it as the print equivalent of Pokemon: gotta catch ’em all.

The “File Magazine” section at Kinokuniya Bookstore, Shinjuku, Tokyo (photo taken December 2009). The thicker magazines in the center rack include DVDs. Below right is complete set of DeAgostini’s Yamato Fact File flanked by two other file magazine sets from Shogakukan: Macross Chronicle and Evangelion Chronicle.

Topics familiar to Western audiences have gotten this luxury treatment for years in Japan: Godzilla, Ultraman, Gerry Anderson programs, James Bond, Evangelion, Macross, and many more. Some have received enormous print runs; De Agostini recently launched the Mobile Suit Gundam Perfect File, projected to run 280 issues. American live-action TV shows such as Star Trek, Stargate, X Files and CSI have also been released in similar fashion, a magazine bundled with its own DVD.

Knowing this, you might wonder why it took until 2009 for an evergreen title like Space Battleship Yamato to join the ranks, and the answer is simple: that’s the year Yamato Resurrection brought it back to everyday life.

A project this big isn’t cheap to produce, so it is customary to give it a test run in a limited market before breaking it nationwide. De Agostini typically does this in Hiroshima to gauge response. Not everything survives this test; a similar project devoted to Lord of the Rings miniatures never made it out of Hiroshima. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case with Yamato Fact File.

Issue 1 went on sale in Hiroshima October 19, 2009 for the introductory price of 290 yen and a free custom ring binder to contain the pages. Subsequent issues were all 580 yen and published every week like clockwork. Fans outside Hiroshima could get them via mail-order subscription. By December, the experiment was judged successful, so publication was slowed to bi-weekly as of issue 7. The first issue was reprinted for nationwide release on February 2, 2010 and both editions proceeded apace. The weekly finally caught up with the Hiroshima edition as of issue 19 in mid-June and the series went forward in unison from there all the way to the end. The last issue was #80, published August 16, 2011. It was followed by #81, a standalone index for the series.

And what a run it was; 2,640 pages designed to fill 9 custom ring-binders that command 18″ of shelf space. All of it devoted to the world of Space Battleship Yamato.

The 80 issues were all structured the same way: 32 full-color pages designed to be pulled out and placed in the binders. Content was organized in two ways, by subject category and also by story. Every issue featured an entry from each subject category, randomly picked from across the entire saga; a character from Series 2 could be found in the same issue as a spaceship from Final Yamato, for example. The point was to collect all the issues and re-organize the pages using the internal numbering system in order to complete the encyclopedia.

See all the covers here: Gallery 1 | Gallery 2

Fans who wondered if the content would include Yamato Resurrection got their answer when the first coverage appeared in issue 26. This was significant, since comparatively few sources exist for this material. Another surprise came in issue 56 when Yamato 2520 became part of the mix. (Regrettably, the live-action movie fell outside the copyright umbrella.)

There were a total of seven subject categories that broke down like so:

1. Space Fleet Pictorial Record

That’s a fancy term for mecha art. Every issue had a new, original painting on a double-wide foldout page that gave us the mecha of the week. On the opposite side were isometric drawings and support data, along with the English name. Hard numbers were not always available for dimensions, but every ship appeared on a small size graph comparing it to Yamato or some other signature mecha. Thus, a “master size chart” for every ship could be extrapolated from this data.

The original paintings were themselves the highlight of each issue, grabbing the eyeballs from the front cover. The vast majority of them were painted by Hidetaka Tenjin, Japan’s go-to artist for all things Macross. (Tenjin has two books of nothing but Macross paintings titled Valkyries and Valkyries Second Sortie. Both are must-haves for Macross fans.) Other contributions were by Yuji Kaida (the top illustrator of Gundam model box art during the 80s), Shinji Nishikawa (monster designer for the newest Godzilla films), Koichi Tokita (a long-running Gundam manga artist), Kia Asamiya (manga artist best known for Silent Mobius), Kow Yokoyama (creator of the SF3D franchise) and more.

Some Yamato veterans also provided paintings: Kazutaka Miyatake and Naoyuki Katoh of the famed Studio Nue, mecha design group for the first TV series and Farewell to Yamato. One issue broke with the mecha paintings altogether for a character montage by Tomonori Kogawa, animation director for Farewell and Yamato Resurrection.

Not every mecha from the saga got the full painted treatement (there were only 80 issues after all), but every mecha got a page and was entered into the record. As Fact File approached the end of its run, 11 of the last 14 issues featured spectacular fleet scenes that moved chronologically through the saga.

See a gallery of the fleet scenes here.

2. Character Encyclopedia

This category provided the other focal image for each issue’s cover, a freshly-drawn and colored full-body illustration of every character in the saga. Main characters received multiple pages that fleshed out their histories from one story to the next. This resulted in some of them landing on multiple covers; Kodai is the record holder with 9, followed by Dessler (7) and Yuki (6). Shima and Sanada got 4 each, and Captain Okita was on 3. Multi-character images appeared on the first and last issues, and a special Kodai & Yuki wedding portrait was done for #80.

Like the mecha, each character received an English rendering for their name, some for the first time in a Japanese publication. Most agree with common Western spellings except the following: Mie (Mi-kun), Deslar (Dessler), Geal (Geru), Stasha (Starsha), Sabera (Sabella), Valsey (Baruze), Rasera (Razera), Mill (Miru), Zurvival (Zabaibal), Melders (Meldarz), Skulldart (Skaldart), Alfon (Alphon), Bemrerse (Bemlayze), Harkins (Hakins), Gorsakov (Golsakov), Boller (Bolar), Rugal (Lugal), Rugal Do Zear (Lugal Dezahl), and Dimguil (Dinguil). But fans have been tripping over multiple spellings for years, and so far the fist fights have been minimal.

3. Complete Scene Record

The title says it all: a scene-by-scene walkthrough of the entire saga. This has been done before in various books from the production years, but this is the first time a comprehensive photo-story was done for Series 2 and Series 3, and the only time one has been done for Resurrection and 2520. The only misgiving is that some stills were sourced from video media (as opposed to film frames), so they get softened or desaturated in print. But given the realities of production, this is entirely forgiveable.

4. Galactic Technology

This is the most interesting and certainly most extensive category, a “Yamato world” almanac. History, technology, weaponry, culture, stellar phenomenae, event maps, it’s all here. Want to know how a space warp works? It’s here. Wondering how all the battles looked in diagram form? That too. Curious about how Yamato‘s mess hall is laid out? Got you covered.

This section is also lavishly illustrated; an army of illustrators was hired to give each topic its own original painting. Along with countless stills, animation designs, custom maps and diagrams, this category is richly assembled and would make a great book all by itself.

See a gallery of art from this category here.

See spaceship size charts here.

5. Galactic Chronology

This idea is somewhat redundant after the “Complete Scene Record,” but still useful if you want to run through the saga rather than walk. Every story event is covered in order through the primary timeline. This means “offshoot” stories like Farewell and the alternate ending to the first movie are skipped. Everything is given a year (though Series 3 is said to take place in the cop-out year 220X) but no calendar days are given despite their presence in previous resources. With the amount of work lavished on the rest of Fact File, this seems like a glaring omission.

6. Yamato Dictionary (above left)

This one is pretty basic; text and stills that collect everything in a dictionary format so you can look up whatever strikes your fancy–if you can read Japanese, that is. For that reason alone, this is the least interesting category for non-Japanese speakers. Nonetheless, it is more comprehensive than any of the dictionaries and glossaries published in older books, and the only one to include Resurrection and 2520.

7. Production Secrets (above right)

This category steps outside the story for a look at various “making of” topics, or the science behind the fiction. These pages were printed on the inside back cover of each issue, so there were only 80 of them. As this website proves, that merely scratches the surface. On the other hand, there were occasional interviews with production staff members and other tidbits that have been long out of print in other books. So on balance, it’s a valid effort.


With such a massive undertaking, occasional oversights were probably inevitable. Once in a while a page had an obvious error, such as a mistaken category or wrong image. These were dealt with by including either replacement pages or patch-over stickers in subsequent issues. When you realize how much advance planning has to be done for a project of this magnitude, it’s amazing such mistakes were minimal.

Think of it: before any editorial work could begin, the finished encyclopedia would have to be completely visualized; categories chosen and page count locked. Then a grand inventory would be taken of everything to be covered. Each individual page had to be mapped out and retrofitted into the periodical format before any text could be written or any art could be created. Enough “file magazines” have been published for certain formulas to be developed, but by its very nature every series must be fraught with its own anomalies.

When all that is taken into account, the question moves from “what took them so long?” to “how did they ever get started?” The one-word answer is the same that has explained Space Battleship Yamato from the very beginning: passion.

Related Products

Binders

The ring-binders for Yamato Fact File had the same cover art as issue 1, with a vintage cutaway drawing (credited to Leiji Matsumoto) of the ship on the inside. Issue 1 came with a free binder, obviously to encourage readers to keep buying, and additional binders could be purchased in two-packs as your collection grew. Labeling stickers were inserted in later issues to number the nine binders it would take to contain everything.

Clear Files

“Clear file” paper holders are a staple of Japanese marketing, and DeAgostini published these two as promotional giveaways that could be obtained with proof-of-purchase. But if you saved up your p.o.p. emblems, something bigger was in store.

Super Mechanics Figure

The Taito game company had released a 1/665 scale “Super Mechanics” Yamato toy in 2007 and re-released it a few times thereafter. In the very first issue of Fact File, DeAgostini announced that readers could get a customized version for free by saving up p.o.p. emblems from issues 1-60. That point was reached when #60 was published on March 29, 2011 and fans got busy. (Tellingly, several of the toys turned up in online auctions within a week.)

DeAgostini wasn’t kidding when they described this as a special edition of the toy; it was painted in metallic colors (rather than flat) and the bow had been resculpted for better accuracy.

Art Book & Poster

With so much original art being generated for the magazine, presumably at no small cost, it was only natural that DeAgostini would want to give it some more shelf life. This theory was proven in September 2011 when two products were announced for December release.

The first is Yamato Mechanical Illustrations, a hardcover book containing every piece from the Space Fleet Pictorial Record (and apparently some new ones for a total of 84 paintings) with comments from the artists. The second is a huge 40″ x 28″ double-sided poster gathering some of the isometric mecha art for size comparison. Both of these products have a limited print run of 5,000 copies each and can only be ordered via the DeAgostini website. If you’ve got a friend in Japan, now’s the time to call in a favor.

Meanwhile, if you’re in the mood for a good long hunt, back issues of Yamato Official Fact File can be ordered from Amazon.co.jp. using the Japanese title (宇宙戦艦ヤマトオフィシャルファクトファイル) as a search term. Get busy, Yamato fan. Ya gotta catch ’em all.

The End

See a TV commercial for Yamato Fact File on YouTube here

Visit DeAgostini’s English homepage here

Visit DeAgostini’s Japanese homepage here


Bonus

Surprise! Fact File Magazine was actually DeAgostini’s second weekly Yamato publication. Their first, titled Build the Battleship Yamato, was a 90-issue series published from 2005-07. Each issue came with laser-cut wood and metal parts that allowed you to build a massive 1/250 scale model of the IJN Battleship Yamato from the keel up. The finished product was just over 41″ long and had its own online fan club. See their home page here (click on the English conversion button to read it) and see one modeler’s photoblog here.

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