Page 1 of the Comico proposal. Read an enlargement here.
By Tim Eldred with Carol Hutchings
The flame is lit
Of all the comic projects I’ve done over my career, this one took the most time to go from concept to completion – by far.
But I can still remember how I felt the first time I learned that Yamato III had been cut in half: furious. It wasn’t fair. There was more Yamato III and it was being held prisoner. Somewhere in Japan, probably in a file cabinet, were conceptual notes about the story we would have gotten if not for a skittish TV network. I had no idea how those notes could be found – heck, for all I knew, there could have been complete scripts – but they simply had to surface one day. Nobody puts Yamato in a corner.
That flame was lit in 1984 or thereabouts. The first chance I saw to actually do something about it came in 1991. At the time I was doing a freelance gig for now-defunct comic publisher Comico, who had previously published Star Blazers comic books in 1987 and 1989. If they still had the rights, they were the best party to approach. If not, they would know how to re-acquire them. (At the time, Star Blazers was still in the hands of Claude Hill and Westchester Films, but that would soon change.)
I teamed up with my pal Steve Harrison to write a pitch for a Star Blazers/Yamato III comic series that would somehow magically revive the long-lost episodes from notes that would somehow magically be recovered from Japan. (We imagined ourselves shaking a chain that went directly to that magic file cabinet.) Comico turned out to be a non-starter, but when Voyager Entertainment appeared on the scene in 1993, I teamed up with two other partners (Bruce Lewis and John Ott) to form Studio Go and we landed that fish with a satisfying THUD.
Centerspread of the Comico proposal. Read enlargement here.
By early 1995, we were readying our first Star Blazers comic book for Voyager’s shiny new imprint, Argo Press. We couldn’t start it with The Bolar Wars, but I could easily imagine tackling it in the years to come. Again, that file cabinet would somehow magically open for us and we’d bring its contents to life. I had no doubt. But, of course, the US comic book industry was completely indifferent to my wishes and Argo Press closed up shop two years later. I’d have to wait for some other opportunity.
The next one came up in 2009. This time, it was for real.
Before continuing, you might want to jump back a bit and read about how the webcomic relates to the broadcast version of The Bolar Wars and how it got rolling; that article can be found here. This one picks up from that one, starting with the prying open of…
Closing page of the Comico proposal. Read enlargement here.
The Magic File Cabinet
As it turned out, everything we needed had existed in print since 1982 in three different sources: the Yamato III Roman Album, the second Yamato Perfect Manual, and the first issue of My Anime magazine. Between them was a complete rundown of the 52-episode story outline with conceptual notes for all sorts of interesting things, only a portion of which actually made it to TV. Once these notes were translated and cross-referenced, a solid picture emerged. The real work would be figuring out how to transform that into dialogue and pictures.
Here are the original story beats that provided a framework for The Bolar Wars Extended (from the 52-episode outline as published in the Yamato III Roman Album).
episodes 16-18: Goa Empire
Journey to the Goa Empire; the true identity of the Goa Empire; Goa Empire fails to control the sun, but introduces a new Earth.
Here, “Goa” was a temporary name for “Galman.”
eps 19-21: Battle with United Nations
Go to the planet introduced by Dessler; Attacked by the United States of Zeni (the enemy of Goa); become involved in the fight between Goa and Zeni.
“United States of Zeni” was a temporary name for The Bolar Commonwealth. The planet introduced by Dessler became Planet Phantom in the TV series. Originally, it was…
eps 22-24: Planet Lars
The mystery of the planet introduced by Dessler; rescue a girl who lost her memory at the space Auschwitz; Goa becomes Yamato‘s enemy.
eps 25, 26: Battle with Dessler (1)
Fight the force dispatched by Dessler; love between Domon and the “princess” is born.
eps 27, 28: End of the Battleship Arizona
Encounter with another exploration ship that makes a suicidal attack; fight with Zeni; memorial service for Arizona.
eps 29, 30: Singing of the castaways
A crew member in the communication section is in distress; rescue or advance? Yamato rescues the sufferer.
eps 31-33: Great interplanetary war
Planet investigated by human team; cross XX kilometers into enemy territory; escape.
eps 34, 35: Battle with Dessler (2)
Fight forces dispatched by Dessler
eps 36-38: Uprising of the Ageha Family
The Ageha consortium plans to take over Yamato; Ageha takes over Yamato at first, then betrays the consortium and saves Yamato.
eps 39, 40: Black Hole
Departure of the first emigration ship to wait in space; the emigration ship is swallowed by a black hole.
eps 41, 42: Last planet
Visiting the last planet of the exploration project; desperation; fight Kaihyo people.
eps 43,44: Wandering voyage
Yamato runs out of fuel, drifts; Yamato rouses itself after Aihara is punished.
eps 45-47: Planet Shalbart
Discovery of the most appropriate planet for emigration, a planet which has abandoned war; fight with the Goa Empire invasion force; identity of the princess discovered; obtain a weapon to control the sun
eps 48-50: Battle with Dessler (3)
Challenge from Dessler; fierce battle; Tomoko gives birth to a child, Dessler leaves
eps 51, 52: Shoot the Sun
Yamato heads to the sun and successfully fires the control cannon.
As you can see, the story was structured so that each arc consisted of two to three episodes, which would have padded them out a bit. In truth, had the series kept this structure it would probably have been better-paced as 39 episodes rather than 52, but the point was to make it last a year. In response to the network’s reduction order, the story basically skipped from the “Goa Empire” segment all the way to the “Planet Shalbart” segment with the invention of Planet Phantom as a bridge between them. The job of the webcomic was to restore as much of the skipped material as possible and figure out what it might have been like.
Photoshop color palatte for the main characters.
Big picture stuff
I first decided to make this project a reality in early 2008. Back then, the website was still called starblazers.com and I was producing an update for Voyager Entertainment every 60 days. The topic of the February ’08 update was Yamato‘s history in manga and comics, and while researching it I learned of the Yamato III anime comics that had been published in My Anime magazine from 1981 to ’82. (See them all here.)
Collecting, translating, and publishing them on the website provided the impetus to get started. It meant I wouldn’t have to adapt any of the story leading up to the lost material and I could get right into the meat of it. For a while the plan was to publish the anime comics up to the breakaway point, suspend them for however long it took to draw BWE, then come back to them for the finish. That plan made less sense as time went on, so I dropped it and took the anime comics from beginning to end on their own. There was nothing to be gained by holding the ending hostage, and there was no guarantee that the ending would be identical, anyway.
With BWE as a separate and distinct project, the first step was to decide how to structure it. Twelve chapters seemed like a solid number, about four a year for a run of three years. Keep in mind, this was back when the website updated only six times a year. The pace of Star Blazers Rebirth had been faster, but it was a shorter story and I didn’t have to balance any of it with writing articles. This time, I had to write, report, and draw simultaneously – and I knew I couldn’t possibly do all of it on my own. So I decided to get some help.
My top two choices were fellow psycho-fans Carol Hutchings and Derek Wakefield. Derek’s early contributions were extremely helpful in keeping the story on the rails, but his ongoing health issues made it increasingly difficult to stay in contact. To my deep sorrow, they finally caught up with him in May 2014 and took him away before he could see how it all ended.
Fun fact: all the original art for the series is a
stack about 12″ tall weighing just under 30 pounds.
Carol, however, is alive and well and right here:
I was super flattered when Tim offered me the chance to write something “real” for SB/Yamato. I’d kind of had previous experience writing professionally with my boyfriend Mike Horne for the Star Wars RPG sourcebooks from West End Games, which Tim had done illustrations for. We didn’t meet in person until Mike and I started going to Anime Weekend Atlanta in the nineties. Not only is it a fun convention, that’s where the largest collection of Star Blazers fans would meet up every year. The Internet didn’t have the sophistication yet to bring everyone together the way social media does now.
Star Wars and Star Blazers have always been my Home Away from Home. When they say “Go to your happy place” that would really only mean one of two places for me. I’ve written fan fiction since I could hold a pen, usually only to my amusement and that of some close friends. My cousin and I had at one point worked on a story about culture clash between the Gamilon Gamilons and the Galman Gamilons — which takes place on and around series 3. Tim thought having a political backstory for the Gamilon characters might bring some more meat to the story, which definitely had some thin spots here and there, being mostly outline.
I’m honored that Tim chose me. There are more fans in the SB Community who are more famous for being Gamilon fans than I. Rob Fenelon and Walter Amos are two of them. I’m certainly not on the same level of fandom chops as Derek “Mister Iscandar” Wakefield. He was the founding father of Texas anime fandom, after all. Compared to someone like that, I’m a rookie. Who was born yesterday. By falling off a turnip truck. In my water wings.
Ultimately, I jumped at the chance to create something that would be read by more than just a few friends and myself, and to give His Majesty and his people a fair shot. If Gamilon and Earth were going to war again, I would do my best to make it as close as possible to how it could happen, if something like that were to ever happen again. More about that later.
I was especially happy to be able to flesh out Jason and Flash. They didn’t really get a lot to do on screen, being part of such a large cast and being newcomers to the Star Blazers Universe. Despite both of them having a lot of family baggage, the love triangle with Mariposa takes them out of their own unhappiness to focus on their feelings for her instead. (More about that later, too.)
The library of reusable ship art, as of the end of the project.
Our three-way conversation began via e-mail in January of 2009. I shared all the translated story material and we spent a few months brainstorming how best to handle it. There were plenty of logic gaps that we needed to fill, which I suppose made it a bit like the development process of Yamato 2199 (which, incidentally, was getting underway at around the same time). We wanted to honor the original ideas, but many of them were just suggested plot points without a foundation. There was nothing like a script, or even sample dialogue. Putting that foundation together in a way that made sense was job one.
I could tell right away that I’d made the right choice in choosing partners for this task. We each came up with unique ideas and identified problems to be solved. Since I would be the one drawing the thing, I wanted to focus only on the material that kept the story moving forward, and it was pretty easy to see which parts didn’t do that. So out the door went eps 29/30 (Singing of the castaways), 31-33 (Great interplanetary war), 39/40 (Black Hole), 41/42 (Last planet), and 43/44 (Wandering voyage). Fortunately, there was no disagreement about that or any of the other oddball concepts described here.
Then there were the little bits and pieces that didn’t add up to fully-formed story concepts, but pushed us into new directions. That’s what diverted us away from Planet Shalbart (negating all that America/Russia cold war stuff the anime was supposed to be about) into a deeper, more complex view of galactic history. If you’ve read the comic, you know how that turned out.
From here, the best way to explain how everything came together is to take it chapter by chapter, which is where we’ll pick up in the next update. For now, let’s take step sideways into something else that’s kind of important: the characters.