The World of Yamato 2199 Music

From the Yamato 2199 Concert 2015 program book, February 2015

by Ryozo Fuwa (film and music writer)

It was 1978, Beethoven Hall at the Musashino Music Academy. A high school student, touching a pipe organ for the first time, made many performance mistakes as he was nearly crushed by the pressure of recording The White Comet theme for Farewell to Yamato. He had been roped into it by his father simply because he played the organ in a rock band. How he could cope with the pressure of suddenly being thrown into a professional audio recording?

However, 36 years later in 2014, that same melody resounded through theaters again by none other than his hand.

There were several years of preparation as he spent a lot of time on Space Battleship Yamato 2199, an animation project that went through event screenings and a TV broadcast, finally coming to an end with the premiere of Ark of the Stars in December 2014. Today, after the theatrical showings of the compilation film A Voyage to Remember, the premiere of Ark of the Stars, and the arrival of both soundtracks on Blu-ray audio, it can be said that the music world of Yamato 2199 culminates with Akira Miyagawa’s perfectly-timed Yamato 2199 Concert 2015, which will come around only once. Miyagawa consistently took charge of the music for the series, and after a long, adventurous voyage for 2199 fans, it returns to home port where it is greeted for anchoring. This is a day to ponder many such emotions.

The story of Yamato 2199, which depicts contact and collision between two civilizations, Earth and the Great Garmillas Empire, is a remake of Space Battleship Yamato (Series 1, 1974), and its rudder takes a big turn in the latest installment, Ark of the Stars. The new enemy that holds the key to the story is the Imperial Star Gatlantis, previously suggested to be more powerful than Garmillas, and it is depicted with great presence.

Another surprise is that whereas Gatlantis was depicted in Farewell and the TV series Yamato 2 (1978) to have a cool-headed emperor with highly advanced technology, they have now been re-imagined as headstrong “barbarians.” Their pride is the Flame Strike Gun, a weapon of overwhelming firepower that can consume an entire fleet in an instant, and they fill the bridge of their vanguard ship Megaluda with liquor, meat, and drums. Who could have imagined depicting them as a camp of bandits?

Once, the melody composed by Hiroshi Miyagawa to symbolizes Gatlantis was solemnly played on a pipe organ for The White Comet, then by a large orchestra with a sharp rhythm section for Imperial City, both of which beautifully expressed a hard, noble image of the White Comet Empire for Farewell and Yamato 2. The music that was once impeccably completed has now been completely reversed into a rough, aboriginal image…and the one who took on this difficult matter was Hiroshi Miyagawa’s own child, the “boy who turned pale at the pipe organ”…the adult Akira Miyagawa. For him, it could be said that a trick of fate brought Gatlantis back after 36 years to provide a “second swing at the plate.”

Here, I’d like to look back at the appeal of the Yamato 2199 music world, what makes it different from other anime works, and the many miraculous fortunes that overflowed from the Yamato remake.

Faithful reproduction of the first Space Battleship Yamato‘s music

When it came to making the music for Yamato 2199, it was the earnest hope of General Director Yutaka Izubuchi to use all 73 pieces of Hiroshi Miyagawa’s music from the original, which meant Akira Miyagawa had to transcribe them by ear (since the sheet music from those days was lost) to faithfully reproduced them for the project in a contemporary form. The goal of this great undertaking was to recreate music based on a monaural source, made for TV broadcasting nearly 40 years ago, with a quality consistent with modern day. In the production of music for 2199, the salvaging and archiving of the older body of work was performed with techniques that aren’t even considered any more.

At a talk event, Akira Miyagawa said, “I talked with my father during this work. It felt like I was hearing music lectures from the afterworld.” That must have been a time of both pain and delight, with “inheriting and learning from father’s music” as a strong motivation. However, there are deeper and more dramatic meanings in achieving a “succession of music production from father to son.”

In an event named Yamato 2199 Launch Ceremony ~ Our Yamato Special on February 18, 2012, Akira Miyagawa explained that “the music of Yamato by my father tends to seem classical, but it’s 75% rock.” In addition, while on stage at the Yamato 2199 Orchestra Big Ceremony 2012, he strengthened his case when he emphatically said, “When talking about Yamato and an orchestra, aren’t you convinced that it is somehow classical? But the soul and cool of rock flows from its roots. It’s the sound of 1974!” What would this mean?

Space Battleship Yamato was made in 1974, it contained fragments of the most brilliant music of its day. As Akira Miyagawa says, rather than confining it into the narrow genre of classical, it advocated a “crossover” fusion with jazz, easy listening, and standard pops played by an orchestral rhythm section, and the progressive rock Akira was absorbed in at the time. Furthermore, it can probably be said that Hiroshi Miyagawa’s admiration of Hollywood film scores enriched his vocabulary, which pioneered the history of pop songs and TV music. His big hit album Symphonic Suite Space Battleship Yamato (Columbia, 1977) was highly influential, and though it is often judged to be principally classical in nature, the true character of Yamato music is a large aggregate of diverse musical elements.

The “scents” in the 1974 soundtrack are now often overlooked; the uplifting feeling of sounds produced by human hands manipulating an instrument and the fundamental pleasure of the music itself. Rather than old-fashioned music from 40 years ago, it skirted the times and has come back to us as new music filled with a groove that feels like a person’s body temperature. The music world of 2199, which is based on the original BGM, acts like a time tunnel between 1974 and the 2010s, reviving its brilliance and passion in the present day.

Musical connections beyond the first Yamato

Despite being a remake of the first Space Battleship Yamato, the world of 2199 surprises and delights with the appearance of characters and mecha reorganized from the sequels, symbolized by the presence of Gatlantis. The result of this is that enemy organizations and interstellar nations that existed separately in the previous works now exist in the same time and space. In fact, cameos have also hinted at them being mutually related from ancient times, so that the entire world of Yamato is one of “connection and expansion,” reconstructed and crafted as a grand “saga.” Of course, music plays a major role in the expansion of such a story as well.

Dessler’s Surprise Attack reappeared from Farewell, and New Cosmo Tiger from the TV special The New Voyage (1979) was reborn as Cosmo Tiger (Wan-Dah-Bah). Also flowing through the story is Great Love (Spirit Guide) [BGM Vol. 3, track 27), which had its origin in Yamato Meditation ~ Great Love from The New Voyage. Furthermore, the Symphonic Suite album and Immortal Space Battleship Yamato New Disco Arrange (Polydor, 1978) took a bold approach in quoting from original compositions. Rather than simply reusing earlier music for the sake of nostalgia and surprise, it was intentionally chosen as a way to express the “connection and expansion” of the story world on the music side.

Symbolically, this even happened in Ark of the Stars. In the climax, the serene planet Shambleau shows its true form as an intersteller seeding ship of the Jirel. The “connection and expansion” of the 2199 world is concentrated in the purpose of this giant space ship, which everyone who saw the movie can understand. A magnificent mixed chorus performs The Ark Returns to the Sea of Stars in this scene. This number is played as the most important song in the final stage of today’s concert, suggesting a connection between old and new. It’s obvious to the old Yamato fans when they hear it, but take a look for it when you explore the original series again by all means.

Because of the huge stockpile of original music, the “virtuosity of music selection” is not attributable to the power of Akira Miyagawa alone. I’d also like to pay tribute to the vast wisdom and deep involvement of Tomohiro Yoshida, 2199‘s sound director and music researcher. The enormous work of animation is made possible by specialized division of labor, and it’s the same with music. The harmonization of images, ideas, roles, and skills of various people is finally resolved in the film with sound.

The New Yamato Music of Akira Miyagawa

It goes without saying that, above all, the numerous new Yamato music compositions created by Akira Miyagawa played a big role in building the unique charm of 2199. In the Clockwork Prisoner episode, music was used to support a completely new “picture book storytelling” technique in Yamato, representing the tragedy of the Jirel race in the latter half of the story. Much of the new music was made with a neutral atmosphere to describe daily life on board the ship, which was lacking in the original series.

It is represented in the gentle melody of Ambition. Out of the despair of the collapse of 2nd Balerus comes the hopeful reunion of Kodai and Yuki with the motif of Across the Beautiful Ocean as Iscandar expands to fill the screen…this composition fits perfectly into the end of Episode 23 (One Man’s War). Encounter in the Void is not “Hiroshi Miyagawa’s Yamato.” For the first time, this achievement is dependent on the participation of Akira Miyagawa, and you can confirm for yourself that it supports the appeal of 2199 in today’s concert.

(Translator’s note: if you’re uncertain which tracks are being referenced here, visit our 2199 discography to sort them out.)

Worthy of special mention here is the strong Garmillas anthem Praise Be Our Eternal Glory, which represents a major breakthrough in the motif of the Imperial Planet Garmillas. In the original series, there were well-known motifs for such factions as Gatlantis and the Dark Nebula Empire, striking melodies that instantly evoked the enemy camp, but that wasn’t granted to Garmillas. Not only is it a new creation, but after the birth of this bold melody praising Garmillas, it was tailored for lyrics as a national anthem, and numerous variations were skillfully made to further integrate it. It even has the impression of finally completing the music world of the first Yamato with this single missing puzzle piece.

And then there is the culmination of the ending them from Ark of the Stars, titled Great Harmony ~ for Yamato 2199 (lyrics by Yumi Yoshimoto, composed and arranged by Akira Miyagawa, performed by Ayaka Hirahara). During the seven event screenings and the TV broadcast, 2199 followed a process of piling up many opening and ending themes along with other projects that straddled different record companies, arriving at last at a song created by Akira Miyagawa in a special work arrangement…and a mysterious relationship that may have made it inevitable

Furthermore, we can’t forget the fact that saxophone player Makoto Hirahara, the father of Ayaka Hirahara, was an ally of Akira Miyagawa’s father Hiroshi, and a core player in the “Maestro Miyagawa Ensemble.” The respective children of both families, who were once acquainted, encountered each other again as professional music comrades to build a Yamato theme song under the name “Akira Miyagawa, featuring Ayaka Hirahara.” In retrospect, it seems inevitable.

Also, pay close attention to the melody that flows through the end of the song. A passage is quoted from Ambition, one of the new BGM pieces by Akira Miyagawa. At the end of Episode 23, Kodai and Yuki are separated, but achieve simultaneous enlightenment about moving forward on their own initiative. The flow of that scene is also played in the concert with Ambition (An Ambitious Youth). At the end of Ark of the Stars, the final project, we do not hear Hiroshi Miyagawa; a musical melody from a score by Akira Miyagawa is quoted as the film ends. Condensed into this melody in just four bars are the themes of both 2199 and Ark of the Stars: succession of the next generation and the growth of young people to become independent.

True succession means holding with tradition while inheriting spirit and aspiration to give rise to a new value. In all of the situations surrounding Great Harmony, as well as the lyrics and melody, I strongly feel an appeal for that. Of all the openings and endings sung throughout 2199, is there any more worthy theme song than this? At the very end of 2199, we get a true theme song that finally surpasses Space Battleship Yamato itself, that famous song that could never be surpassed. Having obtained this theme, the world of 2199 brilliantly closes its curtain with a ring leading to the next generation.

A commitment to “sound played by the hands of a person”

In an interview from the Chapter 4 program book, Akira Miyagawa said, “It was work from the world of craftsmen who’d just say, ‘And a one, and a two…’ and then just perform it for the recording. Therefore, though I cannot say it with complete certainty, a lot of tracks were performed and recorded without a metronome.”

In short, a metronome provides a click sound to headphones during a recording to unify the tempo when playing an instrument in time with it, and it is said that he daringly did not use this system that has become a major premise in contemporary recordings. This is quite difficult to consider with modern soundtrack music, since each instrument or song is recorded separately to be integrated on a multi-track recording system, driving the need for auto-performances on electronic instruments to be precisely synchronized to align with the film.

As Akira Miyagawa revealed on a talk show that when the recordings were done for Ark of the Stars, click sounds and auto-performances on electronic instruments were not used at all. Also, during the recording of Great Harmony, on the assumption that Ayaka Hirahara’s vocals would harmonize beautifully with raw instrumental sounds, the composition and arrangement produced a song that could only be performed by human beings with instruments, even in this day and age.

However, this story isn’t as simple as reproducing the recording landscape of Hiroshi Miyagawa’s time. To express the score, Miyagawa himself participated as a conductor, taking in the emotions of performers and their instruments without the intervention of machinery or programs, in order to weave the subtle feeling of “sound played by the hand of a person.” Studying classical music is a life constantly confronted by the orchestra and the open stage. It is the essence and commitment of Akira Miyagawa’s music, and the course that was set for “Akira Miyagawa’s Yamato.”

In order to reproduce the atmosphere of 2199‘s music recording in today’s concert and bring that same outpouring of commitment to the stage as much as possible, it is said that the actual formation of musicians and instruments at the time of recording is reconstructed. Yamato has been performed in concert countless times from the age of Hiroshi Miyagawa, but never before did the formation and number of musical instruments determine the organization or playing style.

The usual approach was to rearrange the content to be suitable for a concert, with synthesizers sometimes used as a substitute for other instruments. However, for this occasion they wanted to show on stage the little behind-the-scenes tricks used to record the background music. Also, part of Akira Miyagawa’s unprecedented commitment is the sound of people breathing and the warmth of a human hand…so I’d like you to savor it well.

Now then, we must face the expression from the beginning, the “second swing at the plate” and Akira Miyagawa’s “Gatlantis Barbarians.” How did he finally confront his sworn enemy…? For everyone who enjoyed Ark of the Stars in a theater and who experiences today’s concert, no explanation is necessary. Barbarian Invasion fills the Garmillas fleet with fear as they are overhwelmed by unidentified weapons. As in the movie, it begins with drums and when a shocking development is reached, the rhythm changes dramatically into Gatlantis Surprise Attack.

After Imperial City, that famous tune from the decisive battle in Farewell to Yamato, and the even greater assault of Gatlantis…the savage pounding of the barbaric, newborn Gatlantis music almost seems intended to sweep away the earlier trauma. Akira Miyagawa looks back and says, “It was only possible because father’s melody was so big,” but it should also be the tremendous spirit that was transmitted through it.

This is especially evident in Decisive Battle – Yamato, Garmillas, Gatlantis, in which a desperate struggle unfolds like three dragons intertwining. As things develop and escalate, it can be said that we surpass the already-enormous music of Hiroshi Miyagawa’s Yamato into the new frontier of Yamato music by Akira Miyagawa.

Akira Miyagawa finally overpowered Gatlantis and swallowed it up to make his own brilliant music. Shouldn’t today’s concert be seen as a ceremony to hand over the last baton from Hiroshi Miyagawa to Akira Miyagawa? I’d like you to see from the audience the moment when the music of Yamato truly becomes Akira Miyagawa’s. The image of that boy who turned pale in front of the pipe organ should be no more.

The End

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