Yamatalk Night Report
Mecha designer Kazutaka Miyatake, Part 1

During the final week of Yamato 2199 Chapter 7’s theatrical run, this Yamatalk event took series director Yutaka Izubuchi outside the usual Tokyo circuit to nearby Yokohama on September 3 for an evening of conversation with the great Kazutaka Miyatake. As a founding member of Studio Nue, he was one of the original mecha designers for the first Yamato series in 1974 and Farewell to Yamato in 1979 (almost single-handedly creating the Comet Empire fleet).

Though he is no stranger to interviews, Miyatake rarely makes personal appearances so this opportunity to hear him in person was relished by hardcore fans, including friend-of-the-website Gwyn Campbell. Here is the first part of Gwyn’s report, which includes a never-before-told story of Yamato‘s prehistory as only Mr. Miyatake could tell it.

The conversation began with Izubuchi remembering their first awkward meeting…

Yutaka Izubuchi: I went to school in Yokosuka, and one day had a lecture on campus near Yokosuka Chuo Station. I was dashing up the stairs and ran smack into this big guy in front of me. I thought “what the hell?” but when I looked I realized it was Miyatake. I remember thinking “wow, I’ve seen this guy in SF magazine! It’s Miyatake from Studio Nue!” So I kinda stared at him intensely…(laughter)

Kazutaka Miyatake: I just acted normal and got on the train…

Izubuchi: Yes, that’s right!

MC: Not to butt in, but can we start the Yamatalk? (laughter)

As always, I’d like to start with our usual opening question – can you tell us about your first experience with Yamato? Obviously, you were involved with the original, but can you tell us about the point from which you became involved?

Miyatake: When I got involved, the name “Yamato” hadn’t been thought of yet. Back when it was still called Asteroid 6.

MC: That was when the idea was to have a ship inside of an Asteroid…

Miyatake: I was brought on board initially to help make the proposal document for Asteroid 6. So there wasn’t even any documentation for it yet at that point. That’s when I got involved. Before me, the artist Kenichi Matsuzaki was brought onboard to start sketching ideas out. He had also worked as a scenario and SF writer. He attended many of the initial planning meetings and drew a bunch of illustrations on the spot to show to whomever was speaking, and see whether they captured was being talked about.

At this stage, the concept was that the crew of this asteroid was tasked with getting to a specific planet, retrieving an important item, and getting back. Of the six crew members, only one would make it back alive. And, as planning went on, the asteroid gradually became a ship. It was an image that was common among foreign SF illustrations at the time, an asteroid with an engine strapped to the back of it.

Izubuchi: Yes, it was pretty common.

Miyatake: And so it was from that old idea that Yamato took shape. As Matsuzaki worked hard to illustrate, this the asteroid came to have a bridge on it. And when I looked at it, all I could think was that it looked like the bridge of a battleship. So I said to Matsuzaki, “I feel like I’ve seen this bridge somewhere before.” That’s when we realized it had started to look like the Nagato.

It looked like the bridge of Nagato was sticking out of an asteroid. Matsuzaki, Kato and the rest of us all thought that this was…Space Battleship Nagato! But then we thought…wait, that’s no good. If that’s the direction we were going to take, surely it would have to be the Yamato! Matsuzaki thought that this was a good title.

Soon after that he mentioned the name in front of Producer Nishizaki, who decided on the spot that he wanted to use it. So, the person who decided upon the title was Nishizaki, but as to who originally came up with it – well who knows? We were pulling all-nighters coming up with ideas together, and the title was one of the things that came out of this.

MC: So you had the name and the idea of an asteroid-ship, but in retrospect the main image people have of Yamato is of the way it’s shaped like a battleship and the Wave-Motion Gun. At what point in the planning process did these elements get proposed by Studio Nue?

Miyatake: This is the point at which things can get a little confusing, so it’s probably better to take a step back and look again at an earlier stage in the process.

So, we had the concept worked out, but Nishizaki was aiming for more hard-SF and therefore wanted to pull all the technical elements and imagery together in a design-sense. He needed someone who could create an overall artistic impression, from key design points to mechanical design and background elements. So I was asked if there was anyone who was popular that I could recommend.

At just around that time, Satoru Ozawa had a manga known as Blue Submarine No. 6 published in Shonen Sunday magazine, and in it there was a submarine called the Yamato Wonder (manga panels shown above right).

The remains of the original Yamato had been retrofitted into a submarine and the main characters, of which there were two, see it rising about 20 meters up – the impact of that image was great, and no one had drawn anything like that before, so I said to Nishizaki “How about Ozawa who drew Yamato Wonder?” He agreed and went to meet with Ozawa.

MC: He actually met with him?

Miyatake: Yes….well… he didn’t actually go, but rather he had Ozawa come to him. He sent a taxi to get him, but time and again Ozawa didn’t turn up. In the end, he had to go out to see Ozawa himself. While there, Ozawa showed him the draft for his next project which was to be called Ginga, Ginga, Ginga.

Basically it was about a spaceship, based on the Yamato, that had to voyage across three galaxies to retrieve something. He had already done about 200 pages of the rough draft. Nishizaki apparently roared when he saw it. Actually [as a result] there were certain scenes that ended up being cut from the original Yamato TV series. And, well, what could Nishizaki possibly say after [seeing] that?

(Note: despite the artwork shown here, there is no readily-available evidence that Ginga, Ginga, Ginga [Galaxy, Galaxy, Galaxy] was actually published, at least under that name. However, some of the subsequent Red Hawk Yamato model kits from Aoshima bear a suspicious resemblance to Ozawa’s design. See more art from this intriguing project here and here.)

MC: They had been thinking of the same thing after all…

Miyatake: Yes. And when Nishizaki asked Ozawa if he would come on board, Ozawa flat out said no. The reason why was that he didn’t want to have any females in the story.

MC: Just males?

Miyatake: Yes, just males. But [in his version] the ship would not make it back within a single generation. So the ship would launch with babies on board in cryogenic suspension. And the crew of the ship would have to raise the children as the voyage progressed. It was a pretty ambitious concept! Not having women on board – that was not an unusual mentality for those who had been through WW2. Ozawa had been in middle-school when the war ended, so he shared this mentality. But [in Yamato] the idea was to have, at the very least, one female on board in the form of Yuki Mori. So when he heard this, Ozawa resolutely said he couldn’t be a part of it.

Nishizaki angrily exclaimed “who else could do this if you won’t?” to which Ozawa rather coldly replied, “how about Matsumoto? He draws boats too, you know.” Nishizaki apparently left and then approached Leiji Matsumoto about it.

So that was the gist of it. We were expecting Ozawa to turn up, and instead Leiji Matsumoto did! The first thing he did was a rough design for the Yamato and…it looked a bit like a potato (laughter).

Now, one of the bigger points of contention between Matsumoto and Nishizaki was what to to for the ship’s crest, more specifically the imperial crest. Matsumoto was completely against having it on the ship. This was not surprising for someone who had grown up during the post-war period. It was the one thing he wouldn’t use. For various reasons, he couldn’t.

MC: Yamato was supposed to be a show about the future…

Miyatake: To use the crest would be to glorify the war. He wouldn’t use it. But to Nishizaki, a Yamato without the imperial crest was no Yamato at all. No matter what shape the ship took, at the very least it needed to include the Imperial Crest.

So Matsuzaki, Naoyuki Katoh and I, the three of us were asked to decide about the design of it for the purpose of animation. Matsumoto said that anything was good as long as it wasn’t the Imperial Crest. Nishizaki said only the Imperial Crest was acceptable. So we came up with the idea of using rifling in the barrel at the front of the ship. That way, if you looked at it straight-on, it looked sort of like the Imperial Crest.

And Matsumoto was…sort of oblivious to the effect, so he just signed off on the design (laughter). Again, I don’t remember who came up with the exact idea, but we were staying up all night, sometimes drinking, while deciding this stuff, so while I remember what was decided, I don’t recall exactly who came up with it.

MC: Compared to other anime at the time, Yamato‘s mecha seemed to have a lot more lines to them, especially when compared to anime series that had come before.

Miyatake: Actually, that was a criticism that was leveled at Studio Nue. Others in the industry said that there were too many lines. Whether it was myself or Matsuzaki or Katoh, there were a lot of lines. But it wasn’t that there were too many lines, but rather that we were trying to draw them as actual three dimensional objects. Mecha in animation during that time was very basic. There was a just front view, a side view and a back view, and then whatever connected these views together. Even when attempting to pan around [a mecha] the angle just changed abruptly. Objects weren’t even like a square or box because all you needed to show for animation was the flat image from left or right, etc.

In this era of animation, not knowing any better, we at Studio Nue tried to draw objects in three dimensional space. So all faces of the object were actually drawn. Its not that we were purposefully putting in too many lines. We didn’t know what other animators were doing and had absolute confidence in this method. But at a glance, many peoples’ impression was not that the mecha had too many faces or angles, but rather that they had too many lines.

So with Studio Nue’s works, its not that they have many lines [in their mecha] but that they include many faces [to make an object seem three dimensional]. Compared to the flat, single angle designs of that period, we actually included all faces of an object that would allow it to exist in in three dimensions.

Izubuchi: I think the issue basically came down to whether it was easy to draw or not… (laughter)

Miyatake: You aren’t wrong. Whether we could draw it or not, we didn’t consider whether other [studios] could. In that respect, we were pretty selfish. (laughter)

Izubuchi: If only you had had CG back then! (laughter)

MC: So, no matter how you looked at it, there were more lines in the actual Yamato itself than was usual for anime [designs] at the time. Did the animators ever ask you to reduce the number of lines?

Miyatake: There may have been some requests from staff working on it, but we had Noburo Ishiguro as our Animation Director and on top of this was our outrageous Producer, Nishizaki himself. He looked over everything and said we had plenty of time and staff, so there would be no problem with [Studio Nue’s] designs. He’d say, “Do you think that a ship with few lines actually looks like a battleship? A battle ship has main batteries and secondary batteries and, in the case of Yamato, many other armaments as well. On top of that there’s the anti-aircraft batteries. Without these you can’t call it a battleship, can you?”

Well, we did in the case of enemy ships… (laughter). Although we initially had a similar [detailed] design direction in mind for the Gamilas ships from the beginning, that was later abandoned.

Continue to Part 2

Related material

The entire evolution of the first series, including the stages discussed above, can be explored in the Yamato Origins series, which starts here.

The Asteroid Ship stage can be seen here.

Read a 2001 interview with Miyatake here

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