Yutaka Izubuchi interview, November 2014

From Yamato Pia, published by Pia

Have I given myself a medal?

We spoke with General Director Izubuchi for his feelings about creating a new story after the Space Battleship Yamato 2199 TV series

Interviewer: When did you encounter Space Battleship Yamato?

Izubuchi: I watched the TV broadcast when it was first on 40 years ago. I think I first learned about it from Terebi Land [see below]. Yamato and a camouflaged Gamilas warship were shown in a spread, and it felt different from programs that had come before. But, in fact, I miss Episode 1. I watched Episode 2 and was shocked, and sat up straight to watch it after that. (Laughs) There was no home video then, so I couldn’t miss it even once. There was also no net delivery like today, so I felt ashamed about missing Episode 1…but I was finally to see it in a rerun later.

Interviewer: What was it like to be asked to direct Yamato?

Izubuchi: I was thunderstruck. Or rather surprised. But I thought that if I were to make Yamato now it would only be a remake.

Interviewer: You were conscious of it being a remake?

Izubuchi: I wasn’t going to change the basics. However, I also didn’t think it should be a direct reproduction. Anyway, Yamato was made forty years ago in the 70s, and at that time only about thirty years had passed since the war. In fact, the time between the first Yamato and 2199 was longer than the time between World War II and Yamato. Therefore, I thought that the parts that clung tightly to that atmosphere would be difficult to understand now.

I also felt that Kodai was trailing on the look of super heroes from those days, and the inconsistencies in his behavior made him a bit absurd as a person. It might have been the characteristic mark of the so-called “child surpassing the father” drama. This time I wanted to give him a reality that was unlike a super hero-type main character. And consequently, it feels like that Showa-era sports drama tenacity of his got whittled down.

[Translator’s note: the Showa era in Japan stretched from 1926 to 1988. The first three decades of anime on TV is typically referred to as “Showa” style, particularly that of the 70s.]

However, I assumed that when we introduced the mecha and the visual appearance, it would get some brush-up. Since the flow and composition of the story are still very standard, I thought we could do this to conversely give it a fresh feeling. There’s also the nostalgic part for those of us who saw it in the old days. We should be able to offer some surprise and excitement to young people. Because there aren’t many works like this these days, I thought it might feel fresh just for that reason.

Terebi Land magazine, October 1974 issue

Interviewer: Which part of 2199 has the most appeal?

Izubuchi: The most basic part is the group drama. Since the original didn’t really go in depth with the enemy, I wanted to depict that. In the original there is a scene with the line, “We should have loved each other,” which was said after they destroyed Gamilas. I always felt, “that’s a bit abrupt.” To make those words convincing for an audience, I thought it would be necessary to dig into the enemy side and use it as a basis for the whole story. That’s why we dug into the Gamilas side. I thought we should strongly depict their mutual understanding. That makes it different from the original.

Interviewer: How did it flow into the production of Ark of the Stars as a feature film?

Izubuchi: It was brought up by the production committee while we were making Chapters 5 and 6 last year [2013]. “Next year, let’s do a compilation movie.” But if we tried to summarize all 26 episodes, it would become two or three movies. I think Mr. Kato and Mr. Morita did well in that sense (with A Voyage to Remember). I’m grateful to them.

Well, when we talked about it, I thought, couldn’t we expand an episode on the way home rather than do a compilation? I thought it should be about the return trip, since that part hasn’t been done in a Yamato movie before now. The basis for it had already been set up with 2199, and we could reuse the 3DCG models. If this became a sequel, I said it wouldn’t be easy to design the huge number of backgrounds, mecha, and characters with our resources in the time we had.

Interviewer: The spotlight is on Mikage Kiryu.

Izubuchi: I thought the movie needed a storyteller. I thought it would be good to have the objective viewpoint of a different person rather than the subjectivity of a lead character like Kodai. However, it would be a feature film and I didn’t think it should start up suddenly. It was around the time when we had just done the Battle of the Rainbow Star Cluster in Episode 20. I thought, “Neither Sanada nor Niimi are on the first bridge. Let’s put a young girl there from the technology division and make her the storyteller of the movie.”

In fact, it was decided at the time of Episode 20 that Kiryu would play an active part in the movie. On the series, Mr. Yamaoka was in charge of sub-character design, and there was only a rough of Kiryu by [Nobuteru] Yuuki, since she would be the heroine of the movie (shown at left). So, rather than being a case of “Use this girl,” she was added in so that we could use her later. We hadn’t decided yet what Kiryu’s expertise was, so we worked backward from the idea of her being a linguistic specialist as we built the story for the movie.

Interviewer: Is Gatlantis similar to what appeared in Episode 11?

Izubuchi: It’s different. If and when it was decided to do a movie, the Gatlantis ships would be built as CG models. Because Gatlantis only appeared in that scene, it was drawn freehand. If they appear many times, it’s definitely better to model them in CG. As you can see in Episode 11, the Gatlantis ships are all still images. In the beginning we hadn’t thought about bringing in Gatlantis, but it came out in the original that Gamilas had many fronts, with Domel as a strategy commander of the Milky Way area and Shulz in the solar system area. So there were other battlefields besides the solar system. I thought it could be made to look like a territory.

Mikage Kiryu and her father. Mikage isn’t just the narrator
of the story, but also one of its key characters.

For the original stuff, even if it wasn’t drawn in the original version, we expanded it through words. That’s what stimulated us to come up with such a fantasy. Surely there would be various different fronts, so who would they be fighting? Of course, we could take the approach of using new aliens, but for those who’ve been watching Yamato ’til now, if you wanted to have an impact, to make a connection with them…well, isn’t Gatlantis the way to go?

Interviewer: In 2199, Garmillas referred to Gatlantis as barbarians. Was that intentional?

Izubuchi: They’re basically a proud nation-state with a powerful military regime, so they consider everyone other than themselves to be barbarians. (Laughs) I think such a race has a feeling of “We’re the best.” All the enemies in the old series are stereotypical military nations. But now the idea is that if they come from a different planet they’ll have a fundamentally different social evolution. So if Garmillas has a World War II-like military state system, I thought the concept for Gatlantis should come from a different era, like the Middle Ages.

Interviewer: I got a look at some of Akira Miyagawa’s music the other day, and it was simply titled “Barbarians.”

Izubuchi: That musical phrase is indispensable to Gatlantis. Isn’t that the melody line everyone has come to expect? Though whether or not it gets done with a pipe organ is another problem. (Laughs) I think it will be good either way.

A furious attack from the Gatlantis empire. The enormous
power of their Flame Strike Gun puts
Yamato in a pinch.

Interviewer: The old fans are happy about the “Flame Strike Gun” and so are you.

Izubuchi: Right, from Yamato 2. (The “Flame Strike Gun” from Space Battleship Medaluza.) That was pretty impressive. The thing is, as you’d expect, the subject of working in the name “Flame Strike Gun” came up, but Mr. Nishii said, “Aren’t the Gatlantis people ‘barbarians?’ They wouldn’t give it a nice name like “Flame Strike Gun.” (Laughs) Well, at the very least I tried to get the character for “Flame” in there. It’s OK with me if the result feels a little silly. (Laughs)

Interviewer: Also, Berger is a key person on the Garmillas side.

Izubuchi: Like Kiryu, we made that decision for the movie during the production of the Battle of the Rainbow Star Cluster. Berger’s standing was as a subordinate of Domel, so I felt he would be easy to use. I directed it so as not to show Berger and Baren dying in an explosion. I think you can see that when you watch Episode 20. Berger’s carrier Lambea only sinks into a sea of clouds, and doesn’t explode. Baren’s craft, the Gallunt, dives into a sea of clouds trailing smoke and just disappears. It doesn’t explode. When thinking about the movie, I thought it would be great if they survived.

A close friend of Captain Okita in the story. Let’s pay close
attention to what kind of scene Admiral Hijikata appears in.

Interviewer: In a nutshell, what’s the selling point of Ark of the Stars?

Izubuchi: Until now, we haven’t seen action with three forces on the same screen in 2199, and I thought it might be something fresh. I always wanted to explore the feelings of each character, and the subtleties entwined in their past. We’re in the interval between leaving Iscandar and Dessler’s attack on Yamato, so we’re in a place where I want to add that. Not just battle scenes, but something with a little bit of drama. Garmillas is favored this time. Although that may prompt you to say, “Gah! Garmillas, again?” (Laughs) And even Gatlantis after that. Other than Dagarm, you’ll enjoy seeing an old acquaintance when Sabera appears. (Laughs)

Interviewer: What is the 2199 series for you, as a director?

Izubuchi: A conclusion I wanted to add onto my birth as a creator, something like that. (Laughs) I was able to make it a juncture, as perhaps what got me into this industry in the first place or as a way to distinguish myself as an individual. This production called Space Battleship Yamato, getting to stand it once again on the starting line and rebuild it, I was able to exactly do the job with the purpose of refreshing the contents. Most of the main staff is the same age and came into this world after watching Yamato. And so, when I say that I was able to fight alongside such people and get 2199 made, it feels to me like a medal that I’ve won.

The End

Special thanks to Neil Nadelman for translation support.

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