Paleo Yamato: the Original Flying Battleship

Special thanks to Sword Takeda

Earth is threatened by an evil power bent on total conquest. The Battleship Yamato, a tragic figure from World War II, is rebuilt under the supervision of the brave Captain Okita! It bursts out of the ocean, and its wings carry it into the sky to meet this challenge head on!

When most of us were first presented with that concept, it was through the exciting medium of anime, which grew out of manga, which grew out of adventure stories for young people. You had to be a certain age to realize that it wasn’t the first time these exact words could be used to describe such a story.

Before Space Battleship Yamato, there was New Battleship Yamato, conceived by the prolific author Ikki Kajiwara, then just 25 years old. It first appeared in July 1961 as a serialized novel in the adventure magazine Hinomaru, illustrated by Ikuya Yoshida, then again two years later as a manga in Shonen Gaho (Boys Pictorial) drawn by Tetsuya Dan.

If you’re wondering why New Battleship Yamato hasn’t risen to greater worldwide prominence, blame the language barrier. It was never reprinted or translated for export and thus remained essentially locked up in the country of its birth. But Japan never forgets. A publishing company named Cyberdyne proved this when it revived the entire body of work from cover to cover. New Battleship Yamato returned to the public eye in the form of an art exhibition held June 2016 in Tokyo’s Ginza district, curated by Cyberdyne to ignite interest in seeing it back in print.

As of this writing, publishing plans have been announced and withdrawn, based on what seems to be a tepid response to the exhibition. One could point to any number of factors: the sheer volume of competition, the eclectic nature of the project, an increasingly unfriendly publishing environment, etc. Despite this, over 600 pages of content (split evenly between novella and manga) have been restored from digital scans – the originals are long gone – and a small collection of modern “tribute art” has been added to the package. Hopefully we won’t have to wait long to obtain it for ourselves.

Meanwhile, a surge of interest rippled through the fan community in Japan when the project was announced, and samples have been collected right here to continue the momentum; an overview of the Yamato that predated Yamato.

New Otaku Discovery: Ikki Kajiwara made the original story of Space Battleship Yamato!

Published at, June 14, 2016

Article by Nobuyuki Takahashi
Artwork from Shonen Gaho, supplemental cover by Tetsuya Dan

Manga writer Ikki Kajiwara created many hit manga in the 1970s, including Star of the Giants, Tomorrow’s Joe, Ichidai the Karate Fool, and Love and Sincerity. From baseball to boxing to martial arts, he was a first-rate hitmaker with sports competition in the youth scene. And thirteen years earlier than Space Battleship Yamato, he created a novella and picture story called New Battleship Yamato (Hinomaru/Shueisha Pub. 1961-63) in which the world’s largest battleship from the old Japanese Navy flew in the sky and dove underwater. The manga version of New Battleship Yamato (Shonen Gaho, 1963) was twice as popular as its predecessor.

Space Battleship Yamato (1974) was the remarkable work that brought the “SF theme” into the mainstream of Japanese anime. It can be called the origin of today’s “Otaku culture.” However, its production company, Office Academy, went bankrupt in 1980 due to lax management that coasted on this big hit. It’s also regrettable that a legal dispute erupted in the 21st century between Producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki and manga artist Leiji Matsumoto over the original rights. In the trial, Yoshinobu Nishizaki was certified as the original creator, but it was very much derived from stories and characters drawn by Leiji Matsumoto in the 1960s, including Submarine Super 99 and Lightspeed Esper. If the judge and lawyers had been a little more manga-savvy, Leiji Matsumoto would have been recognized as the co-author rather than losing the case.

However, their claims of ownership would have been clearly demolished by Ikki Kajiwara’s New Battleship Yamato. When this work was serialized, Leiji Matsumoto also had a manga published by the same company in the same magazine. It’s impossible to know if he read it, but there is no doubt that it was the original.

Let’s compare differences and similarities between the two works. (Referred to as “first” and “second.”)

1. The main mecha was rebuilt from the huge Battleship Yamato of the old Japanese Navy. The first was created by an unknown super-science whereas the second was remodeled by future technology. Both have the ability to fly in an atmosphere and dive underwater, but space flight is the main purpose of the second.

2. They fight to defend peace on Earth from alien invaders. The first fights an evil scientist on Earth while the second fights against the invading Gamilas from space.

3. Depiction of the enemy. Both of the villains are proud men: Doctor Killer in the first, and Leader Dessler in the second. Both have the image of death in their names.

4. The name of the resourceful fleet commander is the same in both: Captain Okita.

5. The main characters are veteran soldiers and young people. The first Captain Okita has two sons and a girl. The second Captain Okita has Kodai, Shima, and Yuki.

The stage for the story of the first is the Showa Era (mid to late 20th century) whereas the second takes place in space, in the future. There is no doubt that they are different works, but the starting point of the idea, “Battleship Yamato flies in the air and dives into the sea” is what they have in common.

In the trial between Leiji Matsumoto and Yoshinobu Nishizaki, the court argued over “which is the author,” but neither side said a word about “references to New Battleship Yamato by Ikki Kajiwara.” How could this have happened?

The concept of secret advanced warships and aerial warships already existed in the fantasy world and ideas such as diving aircraft carriers existed prior to World War II. The development and advancement of airships, airplanes, and submarines in the real world has given rise to many works in the fantasy world. But the idea of having the “Battleship Yamato of the old Japanese Navy” dive underwater or fly in the air with wings and a propulsion system began with Ikki Kajiwara. No similar case can be found before that.

First, there was Kajiwara’s New Battleship Yamato (1961-64), then the anime Space Battleship Yamato appeared in 1974 as the brainchild of Yoshinobu Nishizaki, directed by writer/artist Leiji Matsumoto. When the TV broadcast began, it is said that Ikki Kajiwara placed a phone call to illustrator Ikuya Yoshida. He was a popular artist who was in charge of covers for Shonen Jump from the first issue, and he and Kajiwara had both attended each other’s weddings.

“A TV manga has somehow imitated our work, you may have heard about it.” (Translator’s note: “TV manga” was the term that predated “anime.”)

It is said that Kajiwara was angry, but it is also said that no protest was lodged against Yoshinobu Nishizaki or Leiji Matsumoto. It is not known how many episodes of Space Battleship Yamato Kajiwara saw. There is causality in the ideas behind these two works, but did Ikki Kajiwara understand the difference in theme and the style of presentation? On top of that, Ikki Kajiwara may have felt it would be unfair to make a claim against the anime since it was initially less successful than his work.

(Translator’s note: Yamato‘s initial broadcast was a total failure. Ironically, the previous anime program to occupy that time slot was Kajiwara’s Samurai Giants, therefore he would have noticed Yamato‘s first episode, probably curious to know what would follow his series. Ikki Kajiwara had been successful since the mid 60s, and he never looked back to the SF genre, so he wouldn’t have been concerned about a less successful program taking after his masterpiece.)

Now, a complete reprint of New Battleship Yamato is being carried out; the entire picture story (about 300 pages) and the entire manga (about 300 pages) will be reprinted, and a special art exhibition is being held in Ginza as a “reproduction project.”

Unfortunately, the original art is lost, so it is a scanned output of the novella and manga from those days. Other creators known for military illustrations, such as Shin Ueda, have created tribute art for display. In addition, Ikuya Yoshida has drawn a new work after a hiatus of 50 years. The flow of time jumps over half a century.

At the time, Ikki Kajiwara created “SF novels and manga” as a young 25-year old man. He made boys’ hearts explode with a diving aircraft carrier that emerged from the sea, super high-performance fighters that mimicked the Zero, a robot army corps from under the sea with hydrogen bombs in their guts, and a giant shark god that received sacrifices in a submarine base.

In addition to Space Battleship Yamato, his ideas also preceded and influenced Toho movies such as Atragon (1963), Submarine 707 (1963) Blue Submarine No. 6 (1967) and Mighty Jack (1968). For SF, manga, anime, and Kajiwara fans, the exhibition is an event not to be missed! (Friday June 17 to Sunday June 26.)

New Battleship Yamato Kamishibai

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably intrigued by how this story stacks up against the anime we know and love. Until Cyberdyne follows through with its publishing plan, all we have are fleeting glimpses…but this “side feature” gives us an unobstructed view of how the story begins.

Kamishibai is a lost art in Japan now, but if you were a child of the postwar years, it filled the same gap manga and anime would occupy in the 1960s. The term translates to “paper theater,” and it was a form of performance art. A storyteller would provide live, dramatic narration supported by illustrated images. Think “manga slideshow” and you’re not far off.

As part of its New Battleship Yamato revival, Cyberdyne unearthed the text for a kamishibai version of the origin story. It is presented here fully translated with colorized images from the Hinomaru novella, illustrated by Ikuya Yoshida.

Gather together, boys and girls. Are you ready? This is the beginning of a great, exciting SF action adventure that will get your heart racing: a picture-story show called The Appearance of New Battleship Yamato. Listen carefully to the eloquent speaker, and you won’t hear a single wasted word.

You are the witness. Ten years ago, Japan fought against its old enemy the United States of America. It was a war. It was called World War II.

The opponent was a giant. The situation was gradually tilting toward America’s advantage. The American forces took advantage of their considerable resources, and the sharp claw of their invasion reached toward the southern end of Okinawa on the Japanese mainland. The American army marched toward Okinawa with a mighty force and finally carried out a landing.

On April 6, 1945, the decision was made for the treasure of Imperial Headquarters, the huge Battleship Yamato, to lead the remnants of the second fleet on a sortie for Okinawa. The mission to recapture Okinawa was called Operation Tengo, and there were only a few vessels left to participate.

On April 7, the Battleship Yamato was far off the shore of Kagoshima, advancing over the whitecaps through the East China Sea. Waiting there was a surveillance network of reconnaissance aircraft of the American Navy. The enemy task force that anchored off Okinawa was informed by radio communication immediately:

Yamato is sailing toward Okinawa district 2.”

Alas, at that time the single Battleship Yamato was not protected by any allied aircraft. Finally, Yamato‘s radar caught a large formation of enemy fighters.

“Large enemy formation above and to starboard. Will reach us in a few minutes!!”

“Large enemy formation above and to port. Will reach us in a few minutes!!”

The enemy fighters were like black clouds, striking intensively at Yamato, the flagship of the 2nd fleet, which didn’t have even one aircraft to defend her. Voices rang out.

“Enemy torpedo bomber approaching from starboard!!”


A combat trumpet resounded with the orders of Yamato‘s captain, high in the sky.

“Starboard anti-aircraft guns, fire!!”

“Port anti-aircraft guns, fire!!”

The anti-aircraft guns of Yamato breathed fire all at once.

The first wave of enemy fighters numbered one hundred. So did the second wave, and the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth waves! The battle lasted three hours with the end approaching moment by moment, until the Battleship Yamato would be sunk.

24 torpedo hits! Countless bombs. But still, Yamato sped on at five knots, refusing to abandon Okinawa as her bow dipped in the waves. But her rudder wouldn’t work any more, and infernos burned everywhere inside the vessel. It was no longer possible to put them out.

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Realizing this, Lieutenant-General Ito gave the order, “all hands abandon ship,” and headed for the Captain’s cabin. In the back, the Captain showed the same heartbreak as the doomed Ito. Then, one officer ran up behind the Captain.

“Captain, I’ll go with you!!”

It was Takeo Okita, a shipbuilding engineer, the man who would later become the captain of the New Battleship Yamato. He was the father of the main character in this story, Koichi Okita.

The two officers tied themselves to a pillar with rope and quietly waited for the final fate of Yamato. And then, Yamato shook. Yamato creaked.

“Captain, Yamato is crying!”

Bright red fire flashed amid black smoke, and Officer Okita felt like the universe was turning upside-down. Suddenly, the deep black ocean current broke through the door of the Captain’s cabin and rushed in. About to lose consciousness, Officer Okita could hardly see the huge, black metallic hand that approached through the seawater. It was attached to an arm like an iron bar that bent strangely, illuminated by the swirling flames and shining in fluorescent color.

The metallic arm tore through the rope that tied Officer Okita to the pillar in the captain’s cabin. It caught his body easily and raised him up into the air.

“W-who could this be?”

Then, from his high position, Officer Okita watched the end of the Battleship Yamato. The bow dove into the surging waves, the stern rose into the air, and the ship sank instantly.

The large formation of enemy planes filled the sky triumphantly, flying around the clouds.

Officer Okita regained his composure and looked around. He had been rescued from the inside of Yamato in the throes of its fiery death by a magic mechanical hand that had reached in and caught him. The figure of a mysterious submarine appeared and disappeared between the massive waves caused by Yamato‘s sinking.

A hatch opened on its deck, and the metal hand that had grabbed Officer Okita threw him inside. The hatch closed immediately and the submarine began to dive.

“We have him at last. We finally rescued Okita.”

In the control center of the victorious submarine, a man in a black cloak chuckled at the successful rescue of Officer Okita. He was a genius scientist, the mysterious Doctor Killer, who plotted to conquer the globe after it was devastated by World War II.

As soon as the mysterious submarine started its dive, there was a roaring sound that seemed to split the heavens and the Earth, the sound of Battleship Yamato sinking. Okita fainted at the impact.

How much time had passed…?

When Okita came to his senses, he found himself surrounded by white men wearing unfamiliar military uniforms.

“Who are you?” he demanded. “Neither the Americans nor the Russians could have developed such an advanced submarine. Who in the world are you? What nation’s army is this?”

Behind the sailors, the mystery man wearing the loose black cloak appeared silently, light gleaming off his monocle.

“I’m glad to receive the praise of the great shipbuilder who made the Battleship Yamato.”

When Okita’s eyes met those that shined behind that monocle, a chill ran down his back.

“Who on Earth are you?”

The mystery man answered Okita’s question with a fearless smile on his lips.

“I…am Dr. Killer, a scientist like you.”

Okita listened intently to the story of Dr. Killer, staring with a look of disbelief.

Dr. Killer continued speaking.

“Heh-heh-heh. Before you raise your voice again, Okita, did you really think the Battleship Yamato that you built would be unrivaled in the world? It could not withstand an attack from the sky. As long as a battleship floats stupidly on the sea, it cannot oppose an attack from above if it has no allied air cover.”

Officer Okita remembered the last words of Lieutenant-General Ito and bit his lip in humiliation.

“Yes…as long as it is on the sea. But…what if Yamato was able to fly?”


“If the ability to fly was added to Yamato‘s performance, don’t you think it would truly become an invincible battleship? You know everything about Yamato‘s structure and performance. If you were to help me, our success would be guaranteed. Let’s work together at my secret base to construct a new Battleship Yamato that can fly.”

“Dr. Killer, what exactly is your objective?”

Okita wanted to know Dr. Killer’s true purpose in taking the risk to rescue him at all cost.

“World conquest!! By the power of science, I will become the emperor of the world. I am preparing various new weapons for this great purpose. I’ve had my eye on the superior Zero fighter of Japan and the weapons of Battleship Yamato on the sea. To fight the war that will take place in the coming era, science is the key.”

Okita followed Dr. Killer’s orders to be taken to the secret base and begin construction of New Battleship Yamato. He continuously pretended to follow orders obediently. Then, three years later, New Battleship Yamato was completed at last.

At that time, Okita seized a gun and rallied the crew Dr. Killer had kidnapped from Battleship Yamato along with him. They took over New Battleship Yamato immediately after it was completed, and escaped with it from Dr. Killer’s secret base.

“My beloved Battleship Yamato,” Okita said, “I cannot allow you to be used in an evil conquest of the world!”

He managed to escape pursuit from Dr. Killer and hide New Battleship Yamato at an island in the Pacific Ocean. Okita and his fellow shipbuilders took a vow of secrecy.

With that, they split up and returned to Japan with unassuming expressions on their faces.

Four years had passed since the end of the war. The city of Tokyo had been rebuilt with tremendous speed. Most of the ashen ruins had been replaced by new homes and buildings. The nation had turned over a new leaf.

“Japan has changed,” said Officer Okita. “I’ll return to my home where my sons have been waiting.”

Disguised as a returning veteran from the southern front, he made his way back to his home in Tokyo.

Koichi Okita was a sixth grader in elementary school. One day, when he had to clean the house, he knocked over a bag from the desk in the study of his father, Takeo. The contents of the bag scattered across the floor, so Koichi scrambled to get them back into the bag.

He picked up a notebook. It was his father’s diary. Koichi thought that he shouldn’t look at it, but his gaze fell on a page that had bounced open in the fall. The whole truth was recorded in the diary Koichi now had in his hands. He stopped cleaning and became absorbed in reading it. He was so engrossed that he didn’t realize that his own father had just returned home and was standing right behind him.

“Koichi,” Takeo Okita said, “the day has come at last for me to confide my secret in you.”

He began to tell Koichi about the strange days that followed the sinking of Battleship Yamato. Koichi’s older brother Yusuke also came home at that point. The three of them moved to the living room and the sons listened intently to their father’s story.

“Koichi, you’re still an elementary school student,” Okita said. “Yusuke will graduate from college next year and then go to graduate school for an engineering degree. Your older brother can be trusted with a secret and is old enough to help me.”

Koichi heard this and spoke right up.

“I’m still just a sixth-grader, but I want to help you more than anyone else.”

Koichi’s mood did not lighten, but inwardly he understood how his father felt. They had lost their mother early on, so bonds in the Koichi family were much stronger than in other homes. Koichi wanted his father to admit that he was as capable as Yusuke despite his younger age. His father looked him in the face and spoke slowly to Koichi in a gentle voice.

“That’s good, Koichi. But if you hear my story, there’s no turning back. Is this still what you want?”

“I don’t mind, father. I am a man of the Okita family.”

Koichi stuck out his chest with confidence.

“It’s wonderful, father, wonderful. Please let me help, too!!”

“I will if you grow a little more, Koichi.”

Yusuke looked at Koichi and spoke soothing words.

“Yes, how about when you become a high school student?”

Koichi couldn’t think of anything to say in response to his older brother, but in his heart he still couldn’t give up.

The day finally came when the President of the USA visited Japan for the first time in a show of international goodwill. It was a topic across all of Japan. On that day, Koichi Okita had been invited to the Hayama coast of Kanagawa Prefecture, to the villa of his classmate Ruriko Tachibana and her father.

A yacht crewed by employees of the Tachibana family ran at full speed off the shore of Hayama, smoothly carrying Koichi and Ruriko.

“Hey, Koichi. I heard this is the first day the US President is coming to Japan. Did you know?”

Since Ruriko wanted to keep her hair from blowing in the sea breeze, she had gathered it up in a scarf, like an adult. She gazed at Koichi and batted her eyelashes.

“Yes,” Koichi said, “the president’s plane ought to be arriving in Japan right about now.”

He held his hand against his forehead and looked up into the sky. The early summer sunlight was dazzling. It was lucky that he had chosen this moment to look up, since he was able to spot one large airplane and about ten fighters escorting it toward the Tokyo area.

“Ruri-chan, is that…?”

Koichi pointed in the direction of the plane.

“Yes, it must be.”

Ruriko waved her hand toward the plane.

“Mr. President, welcome to Japan!!”

Ruriko gave a big wave and smiled broadly. Then, a different group of planes began to approach that of the president.

“That’s the Japanese flag on their wings,” Koichi said, standing next to Ruriko. “It’s an escort from the Self-Defense Forces. A welcoming flight from the Japan side.”

They waved together, standing side by side. In a moment, the number of SDF planes increased. Twenty, thirty, then fifty planes with Mount Fuji behind them. They were all Japanese Air SDF F86D all-weather jet fighters. But there was something strange in the appearance of their welcome to the President.

In the next moment, an F86D came near the President’s plane and then suddenly deployed, rising quickly. With that, the rest of the F86D formation reversed and fired rocket bullets toward the President’s plane.

“Koichi, what are the SDF forces doing? Such a thing could cause an international incident. Why would they attack the President’s plane?”

As Ruriko asked this, Koichi kept quiet. The American Air Force was surprised by the first shot, but they quickly took up a retaliatory stance against the SDF planes. They fired their own rocket bullets and returned the fire of the F86D SDF planes.

But then, a strange thing – the American Air Force fighters, which should have easily overwhelmed the Japanese F86Ds, were shot down one by one before they knew it.

“That’s very strange,” Koichi cried. “Next to the American Air Force, the Japanese SDF F86Ds should be obsolete!”

Then he stopped to think. Why would Dr. Killer use Japanese SDF planes to attack the President’s airplane? An idea struck him immediately. He had heard from his father that Dr. Killer’s purpose was to start a war. If the President’s plane was shot down by the Japanese SDF Air Force, Japan and America would go to war. That was the goal of Dr. Killer.

“We have to stop Dr. Killer’s attack somehow. They may look like old-fashioned F86Ds, but they’re using modern weapons. The evidence is that even though they fought the American Air Force, not one of them was shot down.”

Then, the outline of a ship the size of a while suddenly appeared from the sea. It wasn’t a submarine. When the ship burst out of the water, huge wings opened from its sides and it leapt up into the sky!

“It’s New Battleship Yamato!!”

Koichi was seeing it for the first time, but he knew immediately what ship it was. Its shape was exactly like the Battleship Yamato, which he knew well. The Yamato-class battleship he’d heard about from his father went soaring into the air with ease. His father and older brother were on board that ship. Koichi clearly thought so.

“We’ve finally found Takeo Okita,” Dr. Killer cried. “After you captured New Battleship Yamato and ran from me, my men scoured the Pacific Ocean to Japan for it. You were hiding it on the sea floor! The first step of my world conquest is to sow discord between Japan and America and make them fight a war again. I will not allow you to interfere!”

New Battleship Yamato rose from the sea and thrust itself between the President’s plane and the SDF airplanes.

“Turn the ship to protect the President’s plane and prepare to attack all the camouflaged aircraft!” 

The order was shouted by Captain Takeo Okita, commanding the bridge on New Battleship Yamato. His first mate as Yusuke Okita.

Yamato‘s hull moved to block the SDF aircraft, using itself to shield the President’s plane, then opened fire with its anti-aircraft guns to shoot down the F86Ds one by one. There were 50 planes in the SDF unit, and all were shot down into the sea in about ten minutes.

Yamato continued to protect the President’s plane until it was able to arrive safely at Haneda.

However, Dr. Killer’s plot had only just begun with this public display. He had remodeled Zeros from the war into Type-72 Zeros that carried poisonous gas. The Killer fleet consisted of huge aircraft carriers and submarines. He would attack Yamato with one new weapon after another, including hydrogen bomb robots.

Beware, New Battleship Yamato!! How will this unfold?

That’s all for this part of The Appearance of New Battleship Yamato. Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow for more!

Click here to see more New Battleship Yamato coverage in Part 2!

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