The Message of Space Battleship Yamato

All you need is one glance at a Tokyo magazine rack to see that Japanese media rivals the world in both volume and variety. There’s a magazine to serve just about every niche and, as anime and hobby mags demonstrate, niches within a niche. In this case, our attention is drawn to a mens’ lifestyle magazine with the very specific name Showa 40 Nen Otoko, which translates to Showa Year 40 Man. The title in itself requires some explanation.

Showa in this context refers to a period of time based on the reign of Emperor Hirohito (posthumously renamed Showa), from 1926-1989. Showa year 0 was 1925, so you can easily convert Showa years to the western calendar by adding 25. For example, Showa year 40 converts to 1965.

Japan didn’t fully adopt the Western calendar into their mass media until the 80s, so if you’re going to do any research that goes farther back, adding 25 will become common practice. Also, Showa is a handy umbrella term for any anime that was made before 1989, and it’s a strong line of demarcation for many aesthetic reasons.

Another way to interpret the name of the magazine is 1960s Man, since “Showa 40” can be used as a blanket term for the decade, but in this case the words “Born in 1965” appear in English on the cover, and the specific year “Showa 40” is mentioned often inside. So 1965 Man is probably more accurate.

Issue 17 of 1965 Man (dated February) was published on January 11, 2013 with a cover guaranteed to grab the attention of Yamato fans, especially those who were there at the beginning. Someone born in 1965 would have been 9 when the first series premiered on TV, dead center in the target audience. And for that particular audience, few men from the world of anime made a deeper impression than Captain Okita.

The cover story for the issue was titled The Message Hit Us Directly, and Yamato wasn’t the only classic examined under that heading; attention was also given to the landmark manga titles Blackjack and Star of the Giants, the ubiquitous Ultraman, the music of pop superstar Miyuki Nakajima (who coincidentally composed Yamato 2199‘s first TV end title), and live-action TV shows that made equally strong impressions on men in this specific age group.

Presented here is the first of two articles that examine the impact of Space Battleship Yamato Series 1 on the 1965 Man–and pretty much everyone else who saw it at an impressionable age.

At the end of a 296,000 light year journey, the “Message” that Yamato carried

The great SF work Space Battleship Yamato was the root of the anime boom in Japan. Revolutionary style, the theme of a lasting mankind, magnificent music…a thick dictionary would be required to name all of its charms. Here, we touch on the wise remarks of characters at the core of the story to approach the truth of the message we received.

Written by Kenji Adachi, translated by Tim Eldred

When we encountered the TV anime Space Battleship Yamato in October 1974, we men of 1965 were third-graders in primary school. But as you know, it was forced from the beginning to struggle against a formidable enemy in the same time slot, Girl of the Alps Heidi (Sunday night at 7:30), and because of this broadcast hardship, it suffered when the planned 39 episodes were reduced to 26. Therefore, the readers who had their first Yamato experience through daily reruns were not few in number. However, the popularity of reruns lit a fire, and a feature film version edited from the TV series was produced in 1977, three years after the first broadcast, and it caused a big movement all over Japan. There are probably also some readers who had the experience of waiting in line all night at a theater for the premiere.

From a man’s way of life to an outlook on war, the scientific view, romance between men and women, and the love of all humanity, a variety of themes are necessary for us to live on in the world of Yamato, as defined by the message that came from characters who were carefully depicted. Yamato‘s crew had to accomplish the extraordinary 296,000 light year round-trip to Iscandar despite attacks by a tenacious enemy, and only Captain Juuzo Okita could shake their feelings of anxiety over being constantly forced to fight and guide the single ship onward into the darkness. To learn how the crew changed over the long voyage and how they moved our hearts, we must first examine Okita’s way of life.

“Endure the humiliation of today for the sake of tomorrow. That is a true man.”

Juuzo Okita

Even under a cloud of defeat as the Earth fleet commander, Juuzo Okita possesses an indomitable fighting spirit, and is determined to launch for Iscandar in Yamato. He is the absolute authority on board, and even the enemy general fears his cool insight.

The way of the “indomitable man” Juuzo Okita

If we were to express the way of life of Juuzo Okita with one phrase, it would be “indomitable man.” As it was depicted at the beginning of the Episode 1, a defense fleet was formed with the concentrated effort of the entire Earth, and when it stood on the edge against the mysterious enemy, a Gamilas fleet with overwhelming technology, all but Captain Okita’s command flagship were annihilated. Still, when ordered by the enemy to surrender, Okita responded “idiots” and choose to endure the consequences of not accepting. And despite his own subjective anxiety, he was rewarded the prize of being made captain of Earth’s trump card, the space battleship Yamato.

Yamato is equipped with the Wave-Motion Engine, the super-technology brought from Iscandar, and with the help of the Wave-Motion Gun’s overwhelming destructive power, and warp navigation to exceed the velocity of light, one enemy attack after another was broken as the trip continued. However, the trip was always fraught with danger, and it directly affected the physical health of Okita. Although the young crewmembers Susumu Kodai and Shima Daisuke became the hands and feet of Okita, of course Yamato is a warship to the last, and could not be moved impetuously without the orders of Okita at the head.

But the anxiety hinted at in Okita before leaving Earth became real when Dr. Sado recommended surgery [in Episode 17]. Okita replied: “Even if there’s only a 1% chance, help me to work just a while longer. This is a man’s request.” In response to Okita’s will to carry on his personal duty, even the heavy drinker Dr. Sado took on a sober look. “I won’t let you die so easily,” he answered, and the careful operation succeeded.

On the other hand, uneasy voices began to gradually emerge among the crew as they left Earth behind and suffering from homesickness also appeared. Yabu of the engine room crew was one of them. “Shouldn’t we think about transplanting the human race to a second Earth before it’s too late?” Okita guessed that such an atmosphere might arise, and admonished it when collecting the group leaders of each post together for dinner.

“Should we not believe in success?” he asked. “There is nothing certain in life. No one knows what will happen tomorrow. But nothing can be done if we are afraid. Overcoming that anxiety and believing in tomorrow is the battle within our hearts.”

Needless to say, this must have also been the language Okita used to get himself through his illness. Additionally, Yamato surpasses the limits of a single anime work with this line by speaking to the reality of modern society; a universal message, so to speak.

When Okita says these words, Yamato is halfway to Iscandar, and passes through a fierce battle at the planet Balan. Okita discerns the merits of Kodai’s performance at this time and orders him to serve as deputy captain.

Although he takes command in the major decisive battle with the Gamilas carrier fleet lead by General Domel, he entrusts Kodai to lead the battle at Planet Gamilas. However, when Kodai confronts the storm of sulphuric acid rain by the clever strategy of Emperor Dessler, he has no choice but to rely on Okita. From his sickbed, Okita gives Kodai the unexpected tactic of diving into the sulphuric acid sea.

Yamato will not necessarily melt away in five or ten minutes.”

Kodai ascertains the reality of Okita’s bold and calm judgment, and the Wave-Motion Gun is fired into the nucleus of Planet Gamilas’ submarine volcano. This succeeds in reversing the tide and brings victory to Yamato.

“How can anyone understand? There’s no way that they could.”

Susumu Kodai

After losing his parents in a Gamilas air raid and his brother in battle, Susumu Kodai burned for revenge and decided to board Yamato. Although entrusted to lead the combat group, his hot temper causes frequent clashes with his colleagues, but he also has a calm, observing eye.

The growth of Susumu Kodai from vengeful demon to young leader

After the fierce battle with Gamilas, Kodai faces a reality he could not have imagined. But before we talk about this, I’d like to look back at the steps he took.

Originally, Susumu Kodai was a quiet boy who dreamed of being an entomologist, but after he lost his parents in the attack of a Gamilas planet bomb and then his older brother Mamoru in battle against the Gamilas, he wanted revenge upon the enemy and volunteered to board Yamato. These circumstances made him into a hothead, and in the beginning he frequently clashed with his colleague Shima Daisuke.

When seeing a Gamilas soldier who had been taken prisoner, he even bared his feelings for revenge with a knife. He then admonished his enemy for trying to kill himself by crying out, “Know the importance of life!” Kodai was able to speak these words from complex feelings of regret, and through them overcome and outgrow his obsession for revenge. From there on, Kodai could assess a situation with the calm of an insect enthusiast and save Yamato from crisis. When Okita was confined to his sickbed, Kodai gradually adopted the captain’s nature as a leader on his behalf.

Also having no relatives left on Earth, Okita looked upon Kodai with a familiarity of his circumstances, and might have seen himself in Kodai as a hot-blooded youth. The result is that Kodai accumulated various experiences to arrive at the above-mentioned fight to the death at Planet Gamilas. When Kodai later surveyed the quiet Gamilas city laid waste, he was seized by intense self-examination.

“If one person wins, another loses. What happens to the person who lost? Does the one who lost have no right to happiness? I never thought about that until today. This is sad! It is tragic!”

Hearing his words, Yuki Mori, the heroine of the story, says tearfully, “What have we done? I can no longer face God.”

And Kodai cries out to the silent ruins.

“We should never have fought, we should have loved each other. Victory tastes like ashes!” That may or may not be true. I don’t know if a person’s feelings on this can be changed so easily.

But the lines include “defending oneself with the figure of Yamato,” and the battle that must have begun from a position of self-defense gradually escalates to the absurdity of driving an opponent into unwanted extinction. It is certain that the creators appealed to us through the words of Kodai. Those of us who were young were able to receive this awareness and have our hearts moved by it. Alternatively, we were 1965 men who did not know war, and it may have been the moment when the essence of war touched us for the first time.

Against the backdrop of the early 70s, there is the indication that Space Battleship Yamato consciously avoided groundless criticism as war program, but its importance is concentrated in this one scene.

“I want a certain person to like me.”

Yuki Mori

Yuki Mori is the heroine of the story. Although she is in charge of the life group, she operates Yamato‘s radar on the bridge, and as a woman of additional talents she even assists Dr. Sado as his nurse. Who is the “certain person” she secretly likes?

Does only Yuki know? The truth of love aboard Yamato

Although they have passed down even during our generation as the best couple in the Yamato world, in fact there was little evident expression of love by this point, at least on Kodai’s side.

When it comes to Yuki, it was meaningful when she wished on a passing star for “a certain person to like me,” and also when she babbles about the future while taking a commemorative photo with Kodai. Despite these implications, whether through insensitivity or a lack of experience, Yuki’s thoughts are not shared by Kodai at all.

From the meta point of view, considering that the goal on the creative side was to emphasize male drama through Yamato as a general policy, I think the story might have become complicated by getting involved with the love of man and woman. If you take the ending theme, The Scarlet Scarf, to be speaking by proxy for the feelings of Yamato‘s crew, there’s no damage done to the romantic mood. However, this “collection” of love at the midway point would have a great effect in the last round.

After overcoming various experiences, Captain Okita and Yamato‘s crew reach Iscandar, their desintation. They receive the radiation removal equipment and build it on the way home. Although Yamato receives a counterattack from Emperor Dessler, who burns with obsession for revenge, the ship escapes this difficulty by the quick wit of chief engineer Shiro Sanada. However, Yuki falls due to an unexpected defect in the radiation removal device, which she activated. Kodai realizes that it was the result of her sincerely wanting to help him, and while holding Yuki’s silent body, he grieves over his stupidity for not sharing her feelings.

On the other hand, Okita faces his last moments in the captain’s room while seeing Earth before him. After asking Dr. Sado, “Where will my soul go after leaving my body?” the last thing he says is, “Earth‚Ķhow bittersweet,” leaving one last quotation before dying in his sleep. Then Yuki regains consciousness, as if changing places. Did the soul of Okita enter Yuki? Was it the will of Okita that he would like to watch Kodai, who he had just entrusted with the future?

On this 296,000 light year journey, Juuzo Okita’s way of life engraved a strong message into our hearts.

Yamato Secret Story 1

Planet Beemera, Underground Prison of Condemned Criminals!

Analyzer is Yamato‘s sentient robot for survey and analysis, a reliable character who plays an active role and carries the load in various scenes. As a drinking buddy for Dr. Sado, he gives off a pink glow when he gets drunk. He also seems to have some mysterious functions, such as the ability to understand peoples’ feelings.

The charm of Yamato‘s characters comes from the growth of each person cultivated by their experience over the long journey. Many traces of their growth are included in the episodes following just after the departure from the solar system. It could be said that the most prominent among them is Episode 16, Planet Beemera, Underground Prison of Condemned Criminals! The lead role in this story is taken by Yamato‘s reliable independent robot, Analyzer.

Intending to lighten the mood of the long journey, life group leader Yuki Mori cuts a glamorous figure for the crew, and Analyzer suddenly lifts up her skirt! The angry Yuki goes to the captain and protests, demanding that Analyzer be reprogrammed to stay out of mischief. In contrast, Okita says “maybe it’s better not to correct this habit,” speaking as a man on various levels.

In order to compensate for food shortages on board the ship, Okita orders Yuki and Analyzer to search the nearby planet Beemera. On the way there, Analyzer suddenly urges Yuki to “marry” him. Shaken by surprise, Yuki makes the wrong move and plunges their ship into a swamp. On Beemera, the duty of natives is to make pure royal jelly that is sent to Gamilas by command of the Queen.

Yuki and Analyzer are taken captive and locked up in an underground prison to wait for execution. Yuki involuntarily mutters to Analyzer, “you’ll just be turned back into scrap metal. Death is a serious thing for a human.”

Analyzer refutes it this way: “Human beings gave me life. I have heard that God gave life to human beings. The life I got from human beings came from God. There should be no change in the value of life.”

The two are taken out of prison and are saved from execution by Kodai and others. Yuki instinctively runs to Kodai’s arms. Analyzer is shocked by the sight and abandons his thoughts of Yuki. Nonetheless, when he sees her again on Yamato, he says, “I like you no matter what. There is nothing wrong with loving someone.”

For we men, at the same time we learn about the value of life, it is also a bittersweet episode in which we see the cruel side of women.

Yamato secret story 2

The case of Gamilas

To depict the villain’s side with warmth was a fairly revolutionary experiment in anime at the time. Despite his hatefulness, Dessler’s personality was attractive and was even supported by female fans.

Gamilas was feared as mysterious planet, like a devil to the people of Earth. Although Emperor Dessler was made out to be a ruthless dictator, a just cause existed for the Gamilas to stretch their hand out into space. Gamilas is gradually reaching the end of its life as a planet. Volcanoes erupt sulphurus material, and the ocean has become a sea of concentrated sulphuric acid. Therefore, they decided to aim for Earth as a new place of residence, and changed Earth into a radioactive planet because it was a comfortable environment for them. Although it was a very selfish action, an anime work that depicted the invasion side of the story with sympathy was revolutionary in those days.

In addition, Dessler is a character who values dignity, and when the skilled general Domel confronts Yamato, his humane side can be seen when he pays his respects to Okita. In particular, when Domel is driven into a corner in the battle of the rainbow star cluster, you can feel the weight of his line when he says to Okita, “Our battle involves the destiny of Gamilas. Even if it costs me my life, I won’t allow Yamato to reach Iscandar.” This brought depth to the world of Yamato, and this view continued in the sequels.

Yamato Secret Story 3

The wisdom of Sanada?

Shiro Sanada is the chief engineer who faced a variety of crises, supporting Yamato from the bottom up. He was a contemporary to Mamoru Kodai, the older brother of Susumu, and a demon of science and technology. A wise remark spoken by Sanada might be, “in case of just such a thing,” but in fact he does not speak those words in the first TV series at all. His quick-witted action that evaded the surprise attack of the enemy in the last round may have fulfilled the spirit of the language.

The End

Special thanks to Neil Nadelman for translation support

Continue to the second article from 1965 Man: an interview with writer/director Eiichi Yamamoto

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