Harutoshi Fukui interview, February 2016

From Yamato Crew Premium fan club magazine Ship’s Log #13, published March 28, 2016.

I state that “humanism” is fantasy subordinated to harsh “reality”

Harutoshi Fukui

Profile: Born 1968 in Tokyo. Made his debut as a writer with Twelve Y.O., which won the 44th Ranpo Edogawa prize. Afterward, his masterpieces were made into movies one by one: Aegis of the Ruined Land (1999), Lorelei at War’s End (2003), and Sengoku Self-Defense Force 1549 (2005). (See trailers at each of those links.) Serialization of Mobile Suit Gundam UC began in 2007 and became a record-breaking hit anime (originally titled Gundam Unicorn). Winner of the Ranpo Edogawa Award (1998), the Japan Mystery Writers Award (2000), and the Japan Adventure Novel Association Award (2002).

The startup of Space Battleship Yamato 2202, Soldiers of Love has been announced at last. Many fans who were waiting to hear the title were quite surprised. The godfather of this title is the head writer this time, Harutoshi Fukui. When the Ship’s Log editorial department approached Mr. Fukui last year for an interview, he said, “When the proper time comes, I want to tell you the story first.” And that day has finally arrived.

We undertook this exclusive interview with Mr. Fukui, who holds the biggest key to Yamato 2202. The story begins with his encounter with Yamato and develops into his theories on Farewell to Yamato. Mr. Fukui brings his precise analytical skills and determination to this project. What does he aim for with the “reinstatement” of Yamato 2202, Soldiers of Love!? After you read this interview, you’ll be convinced that Yamato 2202 can only be accomplished by Mr. Fukui.

Interviewer: What was the process for you to be asked to participate in this new series?

Fukui: I guess it started around 2013. I think Yamato 2199 was still running at the time, and I received an invitation from Voyager for a meal with a few people, including [producer] Shoji Nishizaki. There, I was asked, “How would you like to participate in Yamato, Mr. Fukui?” Gundam UC was still in progress at the time, so it took some self-control for me not to commit to two jobs I would have liked, and that’s all there was to it.

When I was contacted again in 2015, Gundam UC was over and done with, and even though I had various plans moving forward, there wasn’t something I could call a pillar at the time. Therefore, I accepted it for having the feeling of “a timely offer.”

Interviewer: What kind of points did you decide on in order to participate in a Yamato project?

Fukui: By the time my generation came of age, animation had obtained “citizenship,” so I think it was the first generation for which it was natural to grow up on it. Anyway, I was in first grade when Space Battleship Yamato was broadcast. On the other hand, the “Yamato generation” is probably centered around people who were five years older than us, the generation that actually had the experience of animation gradually gaining citizenship. So I think I feel a little different about it, but my generation started to get a sense of disconnect from animation after the late 80s.

Works like Yamato and Gundam appeared with much effort, and it was proof that anime could become an entertainment medium along with live-action film, but I wondered how it came to be that other things were deliberately made with more of an eye toward the mania. Now, making something to cater to your consumer base at the heart of the mania might be said to be common sense, but speaking as one who was bathed in the successive booms of Yamato and Gundam when I was in elementary school, I say no, anime is something with wider appeal. If Ghibli anime or even Evangelion had only been watched by an anime fan, they wouldn’t have gotten the numbers that they did, would they?

Art by designer Makoto Kobayashi

At one time, works were made that had wider appeal, rather than being caught up in the short-term market. If you do that, a lot more people will see it. Gundam UC was made based on that conviction, for which there was no evidence. Thanks to that unsubstantiated belief, UC was able to succeed, but for my part, while on the one hand I thought I had to start working on a new project, I felt slightly burned out, like “have I done everything in anime that I can?”

If I count in the novel series, I was involved in UC for nearly a decade. That was the aforementioned sensation of “not having a project built on a pillar,” that was in the story I was working on this time. It was a feeling half of “Here it is!” and “Crap, here it is!” (Laughs) I immediately went about rewatching Farewell to Yamato and Yamato 2, which covered this subject. That burned-out feeling went away somewhere as I realized, “This is the thing I still have to do,” and I “jumped aboard my rescue ship”, so to speak.

Interviewer: Did you watch Space Battleship Yamato back in the day?

Fukui: I first saw it when the movie was broadcast just before the premiere of Farewell to Yamato. (The August 4, 1978 broadcast, which was the “Starsha survival version”. The theatrical edition included her only as a hologram.) Was I a fourth-grader in those days? I think I had heard the title before that, but this was the first time I saw the story from start to finish and it gave me culture shock, like a sudden sled ride.

I thought, “What’s this manga with such an amazing, serious feeling?” I didn’t make a distinction between anime and manga at the time, and if I remember right I watched it when I went to stay at my aunt and uncle’s house for summer vacation. It was impressive that my aunt and uncle, who didn’t usually look at anime, watched it all the way to the end.

Of course, it was natural that I had to see Farewell, but it was awkward for me to approach a movie theater and buy a ticket by myself. If my parents were not involved, it would be impossible to enjoy it. But as I said before, I watched the first Yamato at my relatives’ house, and my parents weren’t around. (Laughs) They were like, “We’ve seen Star Wars recently, so we’re kind of sick of space” and didn’t feel like seeing it, so they took me to see Kita Kitsune Monogatari [The Glacier Fox] instead. I resent that movie to this day. (Laughs) I’m kidding. It’s actually a pretty good movie.

That’s why I didn’t see Farewell for the first time until it was broadcast on TV the following year (January 3, 1980). I remember shedding tears in front of the TV. I’d already seen Yamato 2 on TV before Farewell, so it was slightly unexpected.

Interviewer: When you mentioned before “This is the thing I still have to do”, what did you mean by that?

Fukui: Going step by step, the Yamato boom from Farewell to Be Forever was unprecedented, as was the Gundam boom after that. When the boom was over, Yamato was forgotten and so was Gundam. They both got another opportunity when the rental video era arrived. When I saw it in a store I thought, “Oh, Yamato, I miss you” and I rented Farewell with that feeling. I was already a college student by that time, and I started watching it with the feeling of “maybe it will make me cry again,” and I was in tears by the end. (Laughs)

When I considered how well the heat of that movie synchronized me with my own childhood I was impressed that “it stuck,” but on the other hand it felt a little dangerous. There was public discussion at the time it came out along the lines of, “Is this movie praising kamikaze tactics?” and it does seem to forcibly lead the audience down that path, so there was a certain sketchy atmosphere to it, and that sketchiness had clung to it.

You could say it praises suicide if you take it in “a certain direction,” but its context was different from that of a war movie, at least at the time. It’s not even a so-called anti-war film, but the feeling was that it was talking about something in a whole different dimension even though it didn’t stipulate what that “something” was at the time.

Interviewer: There were some adults who frowned upon it for “glorifying suicide.” But it wasn’t as simple as that…

Fukui: The point of view of the creator was different than merely being simple or complex. I’ve watched it again every time the media changed, like from LD to DVD. Finally, I watched it again “for work” on blu-ray after about ten years, and though it depicts the battle between Earth and the White Comet Empire, it’s not depicted in the structure of nation vs. nation. That makes it different from a regular war movie, and it also depicts war differently than the story of Earth vs. Gamilas.

When one country fights another, they clash with the enemy “to protect our country.” Is this a glorification of suicide? The spirit of self-sacrifice was pretty common in Hollywood movies, and in the present it’s easily tied into extremist thoughts and fanatical ideas, such as in Islamic countries, but this has nothing to do with how the White Comet Empire is depicted, so Farewell isn’t a story of nation vs. nation. In Gundam’s case, the war between nations it portrays is one of conservatism vs. reformation, ideology vs. ideology, and Farewell doesn’t have that at all.

So, what will it be? When you think of the first Yamato movie, it naturally comes into focus. Couldn’t I say Earth is a “country” and Gamilas is “the enemy,” and the attack pushes Earth to the verge of extinction? It is learned that there’s a way to avoid this crisis, so Yamato goes out on a desperate voyage. However, the savior from the stars is right next to the enemy country, and Yamato ends up being forced to fight on the enemy mainland.

As a result, they annihilate the enemy country, but it was nothing to cheer for. The Gamilas invaded Earth to move there because their planet was dying. After the fight, Kodai sees the results with his own eyes and says, “What a stupid thing, we should have shown them love instead.” This “awareness” is the growth story of the first Space Battleship Yamato, which gives it a clear distinction from most war movies. Rather than battle, it’s about love for one another. If a live-action war movie were to make this its main subject, I’m certain it would come off as hackneyed.

Even though it sounds stupid, when you look at the state of reality love is actually a very necessary thing. The medium of anime brings persuasive power to a convincing portrait of this ideal, and Yamato itself is first-hand proof. That’s why it resonates. Rather than being a “piercing” movie, I think Farewell is one that resonates in the heart.

Starsha weighed the fate of her neighbors against that of the distant Earth people, and her salvation showed the only path for “winning happiness with one’s own hands.” The purpose of the first work was to show why humans are human, depicting both cruelty and splendor. I’d say that makes it a masterpiece. The challenge with Farewell was how to surpass the masterpiece.

When the crew of Yamato comes back to the ground after that, what do they do next? When you put it that way, it’s obvious. They shouldn’t fight any more. But then how can you tell a story? First, the mysterious communication arrives from Planet Telezart. It seems to be a cry for help. Earth has been rebuilt, even though it would be rather rushed in just one year (laughs), but most people don’t even look at the call from Telezart. So in a flow of righteous indignation, Yamato launches voluntarily with the determination that “we will fight!” The story begins with a rescue mission, but the powerful White Comet Empire is waiting there.

They’re different from the Gamilas. They’re strong people that only have the simple logic that they should rule, and you have to decide if they are good or evil. The first Yamato depicted a conflict and clash of nations, and the sequel is structured on poetic justice. If it was just about defeating the bad guy like in Kamen Rider, it would be unsatisfying for Yamato, and Farewell wouldn’t have the feeling of closing a circle. It would just give you a taste rather than a feeling of fullness.

Art by designer Makoto Kobayashi

Interviewer: So what conclusion do you arrive at?

Fukui: When Yamato fought Gamilas, they were in “enemy territory” and had no choice. The thesis that war itself is bad is completed, since even constantly fighting for self-defense leaves you haunted by emptiness. Therefore, when Kodai sees the destruction with his own eyes and says “we should have shown them love,” the “love” he speaks of is “humanism,” which is what makes us human. How long can someone hold out to protect their humanism? Maybe that was adopted in the story of Farewell. For that matter, its the battle between the ideal of “People must hold to love and humanism” and the reality that would smash it.

Such a metaphysical conflict becomes the structure of Farewell to Yamato. When you think of the White Comet Empire as a “hostile nation” rather than a “bad guy,” they become a metaphor for “reality.” Their logic is that the strong should rule, which is the same logic symbolized now by globalism. That logic says that the winner should prevail. But if human society is assimilated into this winner-take-all logic, something will certainly be lost. That would be humanism.

If human nature arrives from “abundance,” and the diversity of people, what are we prepared to do to protect it? And then shaking free of the extreme argument of “I’ll die for it” was what Farewell was all about. If you don’t do that, you can’t oppose the “reality” of a formidable enemy. Risking your life for God and country may be doubtful, but risking your life to protect what makes us human…it may be as the song says, “There is worth in throwing away your body.” [Quoting from the end title song, From Yamato With Love.]

From the time when I first saw Farewell over 35 years ago to when I was reunited with it as a job, that was the message I took in. “I have no choice but to die” is certainly the extremism of a dangerous fanatic. But part of that message is still there in the bones, and conversely it may be necessary to talk about it once again now.

Interviewer: Precisely because it is now…

Fukui: Precisely because it is now. Stories about the mass consumption society or the full maturity of Japan after the postwar reconstruction were originally made to be of the era of 1978, but in an age where the economic logic is to plunder wealth from people, I think the story will have even more resonance.

Interviewer: I think you’ve analyzed the story in a way no one else has up until now. This may be a good time to think about what is depicted in Farewell. It’s often described as “self-sacrifice out of love,” but what actually is “self-sacrifice”?

Fukui: It’s properly described by words, but the implication was too deep for a child to take into consideration. It was talked about in the first Yamato (Episode 13). The prisoner tries to commit suicide, and Kodai screams, “If you were human, you’d know the importance of life!” It’s a great contradiction, but it’s not inconsistent. It’s a conviction that comes out of being human.

Interviewer: I was a fourth grader at the time, like you, so I didn’t have the life experience to properly interpret Farewell. Making it that sort of trauma made the shock even stronger.

Fukui: No, I think it was the same even if you saw it as an upper teen or in your twenties. It was too shocking, so I think most people stopped thinking about it.

Interviewer: I think seeing Farewell caused a big change in our generation’s perception. Among people of the Yamato generation older than us who first saw Farewell during an emotional period of their lives, I think it still causes discomfort in many of them.

Fukui: After seeing Farewell, you might correctly think, “Isn’t it a contradiction in the end to use your own life as a weapon?” and that feeling probably won’t be overturned in our lifetime. Since we saw it as children, I don’t think we could really understand it. But now that we’re adults, we can analyze it flatly because we’re seeing it from one step removed. Thanks to this, I think I’ll be able to capture the core of the work and reproduce it properly in Space Battleship Yamato 2202, Soldiers of Love.

Interviewer: Then the theme is “love.”

Fukui: Yes, it’s “love.” It’s hard to get yourself to say that, isn’t it? (laughs) When it comes to the “love theme” or “love saves the Earth,” wasn’t Yamato the original instigator?

Art by mecha designer Taiji Ishizu

Interviewer: 24-hour television began just three weeks after Farewell was released on August 5 1978.

Fukui: At the time, the word “love” wouldn’t be obsolete for another two or three years. “Love” got overused after that, and young consumers became apathetic toward it. In the end, it may have been Yamato that stood as the vanguard, as expected. As much as Farewell tried doing it, the next year it was resurrected without any fuss. Well, I suppose instead that the resurrected Yamato hit our generation the hardest. Even then, fans had mixed feelings toward Farewell. It was business, after all, and love faded. But all that aside, what moved Yamato from the first work to Farewell was “love,” without question.

It has a different weight and feeling than “love” in English, and the Japanese are hesitant to say “love.” It became more obsolete with the use of the word “roman.” [Romance] Now “love” is no longer spoken of openly. But it’s still the root of “humanism,” and “love” is what makes humans human. It just can’t be helped. We can’t do it without making a show of it. To be a little more trendy, I could rephrase the theme of Yamato 2202 as a “test of love.” Seeing who is tested and how is what you can enjoy watching.

Interviewer: …great determination and resolution. The first time I read the title you came up with, I got goosebumps. Before you did Gundam UC, I think the other Gundam works deliberately avoided “newtype theory.” This time you’re aiming to re-inject the theme of “love” into Yamato, aren’t you?

Fukui: That’s putting it a bit bluntly, but I suppose it’s true. Yamato’s engine is the Wave-Motion Engine, and you could say that “love” is the poetic engine of human beings. As for Gundam, it’s a story of human potential, summed up in the word newtype. Neither was planned from the beginning, but a point of view arose by the end of the work, so it doesn’t matter. What finally surfaced out of them was the engine, which is received by people as the theme of the work.

If it’s just a character thing and the framework is avoided, it becomes like a doujinshi, which is specifically made to reinforce one viewpoint and poke into the corners for insignificant details. As I said before, the rule of thumb is that assuming a broad posture allows you to get a broad viewership.

Interviewer: In terms of the world in this next work, some predicted that it would be Space Battleship Yamato 2201, since it’s the Gatlantis story. What were the intentions behind changing the year?

Fukui: A couple of things make it easy to remember. The title logo highlights the number 2, so it easily has the image of Part 2 of the Yamato remake. And you might say that including the subtitle Soldiers of Love gave us the possibility of going with either the ending of Farewell or of Yamato 2.

Another thing was that one year is too short. (Laughs) Well, I suppose even two or three years would be considered inadequate, but since that’s such a trifling trick to use, you could say you should look forward to seeing it.

Interviewer: It’s a good title, isn’t it?

Fukui: I was prepared for some opposition to Soldiers of Love as a subtitle, but it was surprisingly okay. As soon as I submitted the proposal I proceeded to actually write the script, and as I result I think the consensus was “this guy is serious.” Announcing it this time to everyone like this made it feel all the more meaningful.

Interviewer: Then Farewell and Yamato 2 are the basis for the story.

Fukui: Of course, as everyone knows, it is a remake of Yamato 2, but it can’t be denied that the sensibilities of Farewell stand out. So, while citing the nostalgic gadgets here and there, the story is modified for the purpose of telling a modern version of the story and theme, so it is being redefined. It’s frustrating to talk about it without being able to reveal the content. (Laughs) The quickest, best way will be to watch the first episode and see which parts of the original are carefully reproduced, mixed with different things, and when you see it in total you’ll surely get the feeling that this “remake of Farewell” is a “continuation of Yamato 2199.”

As for the modifications and the implications of an update, there’s also a considerable amount of homework left unfinished from Yamato 2199. To put it more precisely, rather than feeling padded out, the entire 26 episodes feel like a dense work that just barely has enough time to tell its story. We’re building upon themes of the two and changing it.

Interviewer: What do you consider to be homework from Yamato 2199?

Fukui: First of all, the issue of the Wave-Motion Gun. By piling “it’s evil for us to be complicit in war” on top of the original thesis, it becomes homework that’s very much worth doing. And because Gamilas didn’t fall, naturally the situation of interstellar affairs changes, too. Plus, there’s the issue of Yuki’s memory loss.

It reminds me of something I saw the other day on the news. When you think of the problem of population vs. pension, people who are older than 55 in 2016 seem to leave the game with their winnings, but there are no guarantees that younger generations will get the pensions they were promised, so first we have to talk about restructuring it. It seems that there’s a generation that won’t get to leave the game with their winnings no matter how hard they work, and that’s the Yamato generation. That’s not the cross we should be bearing together. What we thought we could take for granted, we can’t, and the world that’s updated day by day is steadily causing our unease to grow worse and worse…

Art by mecha designer Junichiro Tamamori

After the trip to Iscandar is finished, Kodai feels a sense of alienation on the revived Earth, and he doesn’t feel like he has a place there. I have to say that Andromeda will appear, because of course everyone expects that. Earth breaks the treaty that was made calmly between Captain Okita and Starsha, and it becomes a world of Wave-Motion mania.

Kodai, who has to live with that, has feelings of stagnation and despair that are well in sync with us in the Yamato generation. But then a powerful enemy appears before them…

Anyway, I will say that we’re paying close attention to the morality issue of the Wave-Motion Gun, and I’ll ask you to look forward to it.

Interviewer: You could say that’s the first point of attention.

Fukui: There are many others, but we’ll get to them. Also, both Farewell and Yamato 2 take a little while to get going, but since it’s Yamato 2202, we’ll start it right up!

Interviewer: Is the atmosphere different from Yamato 2199?

Fukui: Since we have to deal with all that homework up front, it should not feel very different from 2199. It would be exactly the same if it had the same staff, but the lineup has changed a little, so some changes should be expected. As with Gundam UC, I think it will have a tendency to safely return to the atmosphere of the original.

The characters depicted in 2199 will be essentially unchanged, but three years have passed since the previous work – three years that have been quite harsh mentally – so although they’ll be close to the original, their appearance has evolved. But rest assured that there won’t be any inconsistency in the designs.

Interviewer: When did things actually start moving forward?

Fukui: Around April of last year. The content and concepts I talked about here were presented in a proposal to Mr. Nishizaki. That paved the way to start the staffing. The staff roster solidified at the end of last summer [2015] and things began to move about three months later.

Interviewer: How is the current mood?

Fukui: After a long absence, I took a look at the plan book prior to this interview today, and right from the start I didn’t find it to be embarrassing! (Laughs) Of course, it’s supported by such staff as Director Habara, and it evolves every day. The basics haven’t changed much. Today, thinking about what we’ve discussed here for the first time, I feel how nearly a year has passed in realizing it.

Interviewer: Somehow, I get the feeling that you see the whole picture, but also don’t.

Fukui: I think that’s probably beyond imagining. (Laughs) Setting such unreasonably high hurdles probably makes the staff pretty angry, but I have confidence in it. But then, the point of the hardships they endure is that the whole staff is pouring their hearts out for every 20-minute episode. That level of fervor is amazing.

Like many overseas dramas these days, it has that “once you start watching it you can’t stop” feeling of speed and density, and because it also contains the original Yamato naniwa-bushi [ballad of obligation and compassion], I think it’s building into something that hasn’t been seen on film before.

Interviewer: Even so, it will still have the same atmosphere of taste and sound…

Fukui: I certainly think it will become Yamato. From my point of view, it feels like Yamato has a higher affinity than Gundam for a recital of naniwa-bushi. When Farewell or Yamato 2 is put together for the present day, you may enjoy them even more.

Interviewer: Finally, please talk about current progress.

Fukui: At the moment (February 25), the script is being written for Episode 10. The plot is planned out all the way to the end, so we’re in a stage where scripts are being written in earnest. Anyway, the amount of resources is great. I’m not an animator, but I try to think about things that would be really good and hope the staff will forgive me. (Laughs) Storyboarding is getting underway in parallel, and we’re working hard to release it starting early next year, so please wait and look forward to it.

Interviewer: Farewell is an impressive story, but on the other hand it has a lot of sad parts. I think fans are going to be anxious about it…

Fukui: Let’s just say a story is being made that “nestles close to the heart of a present-day person.” You’ll see it with your own eyes.

– Somewhere in Tokyo, February 25 2016.

Special thanks to Neil Nadelman for translation support.

8 thoughts on “Harutoshi Fukui interview, February 2016

  1. Are those illustrations supposed to be the new official look for the Comet Empire standard battleship and Andromeda herself for Yamato 2202 or is that just fan art?

      • (SCREAMS IN EXCITEMENT!) YAY!!!! But why on earth do they always leave the Andromeda with ZERO AA guns!?!?!? Come on! Could they just put at least eight or four? Either way, still looks magnificent as always… I just hope she and the Comet Empire battleships won’t get one-shot so easily though….

        • Arrrgh! I share your frustration re: the lack of AA guns on the Andromeda. It makes zero sense after the experiences of the Yamato at the hands of Garmilas fighters that the EDF fleet flagship would be so destitute in short ranged defensive weapons.

          Unless of course the film production people have something nasty up their sleeves here, like having AA guns pop up from behind all those panels along the sides of the Andromeda, or the Andromeda has some really unpleasant cutting edge active electronic warfare systems that she turns on when White Comet Empire fighters try to swarm her (and they get their electronics fried accordingly)… one can hope, I suppose…

  2. I’m glad they’re are following up on the use of the wave motion gun after the agreement to not use it anymore.

    • Starsha didn’t want them to use it obviously and it was more a request rather than a hardfast agreement between powers. . I thought the reason they plugged it was because of the modifications to the ship so it could use the Cosmo Reverse System.

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