Direct from issue 15 of Ship’s Log, the Yamato Crew Premium fan club magazine, we bring you a fresh interview with artist/designer/modeler Makoto Kobayashi. It touches on his previous involvement with the saga leading up to a description of his duties on Yamato 2202 and a hint of things to come.
Longtime readers of this website know this is not the first time we’ve bumped into Mr. Kobayashi. Find our other interviews and articles here: October 2013 interview | October 2013 essay | Yamato 2202 concept art
Creating Space Battleship Yamato 2202
Assistant Director Makoto Kobayashi
“We’re doing this according to a theory, carrying it out as a detailed plan. Everything seen in the visuals is being carefully planned.”
Makoto Kobayashi is participating in Space Battleship Yamato 2202, Soldiers of Love in the position of Assistant Director. He has been active on the frontline as an illustrator and mecha designer for more than 30 years. From Yamato Resurrection through Yamato 2199, Mr. Kobayashi took on new challenges, which he discusses here.
The feeling was, “When this program is over, I’ll never see it again!”
Interviewer: When was your first encounter with Space Battleship Yamato?
Kobayashi: The first broadcast. I’ve said before that I watched the previous program, Samurai Giants. I could only think of this show as the thing that had canceled the other. (Laughs)
So when I looked at the new program, Space Battleship Yamato, it was amazing. (Laughs) I started watching with the intention to condemn it as the thing that brought my Samurai Giants to an end, but my reaction to it was huge. It was a shock. It started with the acapella part and the performance suddenly burst into the full theme song, but the essential Yamato doesn’t appear at the beginning. I thought, I’ve got to see this! (Laughs) It had a very adult feel.
Interviewer: How was the surrounding response?
Kobayashi: Nobody else around was watching it. They were all watching The Family Song Contest Festival or Girl of the Alps Heidi. It was unbelievable, since everyone had watched Samurai Giants and suddenly they weren’t watching any more. So it was a feeling of, “When this program is over, I’ll never see it again!”
Interviewer: Did you see the first compilation movie?
Kobayashi: I thought, “I have to go!” and I went to see it. It was a compilation version, so it wasn’t very interesting. But the way Yamato was depicted on the program book cover was cool, it had a good feeling. But I had cooled down quite a bit by the time Farewell to Yamato came out. Was it going to be a remake? That was my feeling. But after I saw color images of Andromeda and the main battleship mecha in Animage, I was surprised by the beautiful pictures and went to see it. I knew going in that it would be Yamato.
(See the articles from Animage 1 and 2 here.)
And so, prepared with a sense of, “Hm…so that’s how they’re presenting it,” I went and saw it. In the first TV series, the main character was Captain Okita, but now Kodai was the main character in Farewell, with help from a lot of people. Somehow, it felt as though the threshold had been lowered slightly from the first TV series, and I felt a little uneasy about how they had handled it. When Yamato III and Be Forever came out later, I didn’t feel that sense of “ooh!” any longer. Still, I went to see Final Yamato in the end. I had the feeling of “is this how it ends?” but I looked over and an old man next to me was crying! I guess that was the type of audience the movie was focused on.
Interviewer: What was it about Yamato that first appealed to you?
Kobayashi: In the end, it’s the story. There is the scene of the Battleship Yamato sinking in Episode 2. The music resounds at that point. I thought that worked really well. I have to give it high praise whenever I think of it. It was a strong image.
Around that time, it was less than ten years since I learned about Battleship Yamato. Before that, publishing about the weapons of the Japanese military, such as the Zero fighter and ships like Yamato, had been prohibited. When the ban was lifted, Yamato became very popular. On the Saturday night just before Space Battleship Yamato premiered, there was a program called Record of World War II, which was a one or two-hour documentary film. When I saw that, I thought,”Was there such a ship?” and then suddenly it appeared as the Space Battleship. There isn’t anyone who could ever get sick of that upon seeing it, could they?
I got a telephone call from Mr. Nishizaki
Interviewer: How did you initially meet Yoshinobu Nishizaki?
Kobayashi: It was around the time that I was doing Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam (1984-85). The telephone suddenly rang. “I intend to bring back Yamato, how about it?” was the content. When he asked, “How would you revive it?” I said, “The silhouette should be similar to the original Yamato, but I would want to bring it back with a different taste.”
Various people drew Yamato at that time, so I started sketching Yamato while I was still on the phone. I wanted to start with a meeting if I was going to do it, so I went to the office, which was in Roppongi at the time. The writing was to be done by Yasuhiro Imagawa and Shou Aikawa. I went to a room on the top floor of the building, a long, dark room with three young people in it. Nishizaki sat in the back of the room, just a black silhouette lit from behind, so it was a strange way to meet. (Laughs)
So, the three of us are looking at him, trembling, and I was about to ask him, “At least give us some idea of the story.” Then he said, “I hear you up-and-coming young people are making interesting things. So best of luck to you.” And that was it. He’d summoned us there just to tell us that?! And, with that, the three of us left, slightly baffled. (Laughs)
Interviewer: You said it was around the time of Zeta Gundam, so it was shortly after Final Yamato, right?
Kobayashi: A lot of the industry people I heard about at the time seemed to want to try making Yamato. There was a plan to make Dessler’s War. The Battleship Starsha, which symbolized Dessler’s deep love for Starsha, was going to appear, and as the name suggests the modelled face of Starsha would be attached to the front of the battleship. I remember being puzzled by that image. (Laughs) After that, there were a couple of stories about doing a remake. But it suffered a setback and didn’t go forward.
Interviewer: That lead to Yamato 2520.
Kobayashi: At one point, Mr. Nishizaki asked me, “Do you know Syd Mead?” “Isn’t he famous?” He answered that he was going to have Syd Mead draw Yamato. “Eh? He’s going to draw Yamato?” I was told to attend a meeting for it. Syd Mead had thought about the cross-section of Yamato, and brought a 2-meter side view drawing. He had thought very precisely about the form. “This deck is the submarine line.” It was already perfectly finished.
Interviewer: There was a concensus between Syd Mead and Mr. Nishizaki.
Kobayashi: It seemed there were various forms that lead up to that, and it had been completed. With production commencing in this manner, we now had to make the design drawings. But, for reasons I don’t know, Syd Mead didn’t make exterior design drawings. Just a blueprint and a transparent view. The interior had been carefully drawn, but we had no idea about the exterior. For the outside, we had several color paintings, but they all had different forms. The question arose of which was the real form. If we couldn’t settle on that, we were facing a setback in the planning phase. Reluctantly, I picked it up from Syd Mead’s drawings and brought it together as a three-dimensional object.
Interviewer: The designs came from a model you built, didn’t they?
Kobayashi: Shinji Higuchi took pictures of the model from different angles, Masuo Shoichi and Takashi Hashimoto did cleanup, and we got back to basics in various ways.
An image of Yamato Resurrection was publicly revealed one month after Final Yamato.
Interviewer: Yamato Resurrection emerged over ten years after 2520, didn’t it?
Kobayashi: The rejected Resurrection was itself resurrected shortly after 2520 began. When the plan to revive Yamato changed, Mr. Nishizaki was always conscious of “the eyes of the audience.” There was always anxiety about “will the audience be satisfied with this?” You know, an audience gets bored easily. I think Yamato in particular is a fun work because it stimulates intellectual curiosity. There are Moe anime with cute characters that appeal to your instinct to hug them, but Yamato is a more intellectual work that easily bores people.
How much can you do the “space has such mysteries!” and “this ship hides such secrets!” thing? As soon as the audience finishes watching one thing, they demand, “Show us something different!” But I don’t think that’s what they really want. While on the one hand there are those who are curious about what’s new, what they really want to see is a “legitimate sequel.” But then you end up shortchanging those who say, “I want to see something more different.”
Mr. Nishizaki worried about that difficult point, too. As a result, 2520 took that challenge and tried something new with the shape of Yamato, but it didn’t live up to the expectations of the viewers who wanted to see a “legitimate sequel.” It was a Yamato that was well-made by a young and spirited staff, but in the end it didn’t work.
Interviewer: What was the process for you to take charge of mechanic design and co-directing on Yamato Resurrection?
Kobayashi: There were originally other candidates for director, but they weren’t a good fit for Nishizaki’s story. Finally, I was told, “You can be the director!” but Nishizaki was appointed as director so I became the assistant director. There was a sense of security for the original creator to direct it. He entrusted the staff in the areas of mecha and SF and made the story he wanted to make. It was no different from the old days. In that way, it had a sense of security. And there seemed to be the thought that this time it would be different from 2520. “What kind of story would Yamato fans like to see?” I could feel respect for the fans.
Interviewer: The entire methodology was different from 2520, wasn’t it?
Kobayashi: That’s right. The goal was for Resurrection to have no sense of incongruity even if you saw it a month after Final Yamato. Those who first saw Yamato as children would cry, “I miss it, this feeling.” Nishizaki said he felt the same way.
Interviewer: You could say it returned to the starting point.
Kobayashi: I didn’t think the impact of the old days could happen again. In Space Battleship Yamato, Yamato flies into space and saves Earth. Because that story already exists, you can’t help but make a different work if you want to surpass it. Working within that framework, all you can do is take over and think, “What do I want to see?” That’s what I think.
Interviewer: Your Yamato illustrations for Resurrection and those you’re doing now have an attractive feeling of density, as if they’re built out of iron.
Kobayashi: At the time of 2520, Mr. Nishizaki told me, “I want you to make Yamato properly as a realistic ship.” On Resurrection he said I should even create the internal structure. Although, that may have been foreshadowing, because honestly it lead to some misplaced anger for me. (Laughs) In a magazine interview at the time of Resurrection, a young reporter asked me, “Why is this piece of junk a hero? Can you tell me honestly?” I looked at him defiantly and said, “What’s wrong with the ship?” (Laughs) After all, from the TV series through to Resurrection, Space Battleship Yamato has been established as really a restored Battleship Yamato.
Interviewer: The visual depiction of restoring the Battleship Yamato really has been continually used.
Kobayashi: Oh yes. That’s true, but what of it? (Laughs) I didn’t think there was any other choice. This was from 2008 to 2009. I wanted to eliminate everything from the past and replace it with something new.
Interviewer: Then, Yamato too…
Kobayashi: Naturally, I was interested as a mechanic designer. Would a lump of retro-future that looks like Yamato become obsolete like that reporter said? I also thought it might be good to modernize it a little (for today). Conversely, I tried with all my might to shake off the forms of “there’s an old battleship inside” and “this is a steel frame.” Actually, I thought “Maybe I shouldn’t make it this way. It’s a SPACE SHIP, after all.” (Laughs) But in the end I rethought it to soothe those who declare, “There is a ship in there, the Battleship Yamato is inside it.”
In response to Mr. Nishizaki’s extraordinary commitment to Yamato, Kobayashi set out to capture the “real” structure of the ship as if it actually existed. He followed the structure of the original Battleship Yamato, such as its partitions, to bring an “iron” presence to his drawing. Here we introduce designs from his enormous sketches for Yamato Resurrection (2009) and the Director’s Cut (2012).
I think the success of 2199 changed Yamato.
Interviewer: You did quite a lot of sketches for Yamato 2199.
Kobayashi: Mr. Nishizaki was still alive at the time it was being planned, and he told Yutaka Izubuchi, “It’s OK to remake it for TV, but use Makoto Kobayashi.” But the design team had already been decided upon at that point. I talked with Mr. Izubuchi, but there was nothing to be done, so it was officially decided that I wouldn’t do anything. (Laughs) Under those circumstances, I had no plans to participate at first. Mr. Nishizaki passed away in the meantime, and once the need for appearances had vanished, the schedule for the main series was decided.
There was some turnover in the staff at that time, and then the design team no longer had enough people. They continued to go in the direction of updating of old mecha designs, and the Deusuler had already been done. So there was nothing else to do there with the main items…but nothing had been done yet with the guest art and mecha that would appear on the Garmillas side. While talking about what I would do, I somehow ended up with that. (Laughs)[Translator’s note: “guest” in this context refers to incidental elements that come up in individual episodes. “Main” elements are intended to appear in multiple episodes, so they are designed in pre-production.]
Interviewer: They intended to use your name, but in actuality you ended up working on it.
Kobayashi: They said, “There’s no floating continent base.” I asked, “Don’t you want it?” But they replied, “That might be a problem.” Then I was told that Earth wouldn’t have a mining station on Saturn’s moon this time, and I was like, you’d go and do that to the Earth side, too? (Laughs)
Interviewer: The methodology for 2199 wasn’t like Resurrection, was it?
Kobayashi: The first TV series depicting the war against Garmillas was an “ironclad” story that had been remade several times already. The planning for it was going on at about the same time as Resurrection. As talk went back and forth, Resurrection was going to be a more original SF work. I had the fear that “there may not be viewers who appreciate Yamato so much anymore,” but when the audience turned out for the Director’s Cut version, I realized “the fans are still around!” (Laughs) By modifying it to the flavor of the old work, we were able to course-correct.
Interviewer: Certainly at that time there was some anxiety about “ret-conning” the content of Yamato.
Kobayashi: At the time episodes 1 and 2 of 2199 were made, I heard questions like, “Is this really all right?” coming from the inside. “Is this what the audience wants to see?” So the first chapter was previewed several times. The audience increased each time, so its reputation improved. And then we were finally able to make a master schedule.
Then, amid all the trouble of making 2199, Mr. Izubuchi said he wanted make it a Gundam Century for Yamato. Gundam Century was derived from Mobile Suit Gundam, a portion not seen on screen, a book written to supplement the science-fiction aspects. That way, the methodology became to find the gaps in the first Yamato TV series, the parts that were insufficiently explained, and fill them in. Mr. Izubuchi said that fans should also sink their teeth into that.
Interviewer: That judgment succeeded wonderfully.
Kobayashi: I don’t think it would be worth creating a new Yamato if you didn’t go into it with such insight. Even if we offered it to the audience saying, “It’s just how you remember it,” I honestly don’t think it would have made them happy. Can’t we show that there is a different approach to take? In that sense, I think it was the correct decision to modernize the characters. Certainly, before starting on 2199, we had to ask, “what is Yamato?” It was great in the old days. But then there was a long blank. What was the point in getting a feeling about it at this point? But the success of 2199 changed Yamato.
With Yamato 2202, we’re aiming for a work that doesn’t bore the audience
Interviewer: Now I’d like to ask you about Yamato 2202, Soldiers of Love. How did you come to participate in it?
Kobayashi: I heard about it from Shoji Nishizaki, and he asked me to help out a little. It’s a familiar story. I was sent a rough outline.
Interviewer: What does the position of “Assistant Director” entail?
Kobayashi: Rather than assembling the script like Director Nobuyoshi Habara, I specialize in the areas of production, considering shots and layouts. Therefore, in a script meeting I might be asked for my opinion. Since I was doing that sort of script supervision, they made the position of “assistant director” for me.[Translator’s note: the equivalent titles in US animation are Director (for an individual episode) and Supervising Director (for the overall series).]
Interviewer: The roles of Director and Assistant Director are based around that?
Kobayashi: I guess so. It also feels kind of like sharing a mess. (Laughs) But I think it’s similar to when we worked on Resurrection. Instead of a director who is also the author, there is a writer this time, Harutoshi Fukui, and we visualized scenes from the script, wondering how to insert successful ideas into it. It might be such a system.
Interviewer: What are your impressions of Mr. Fukui’s screenplay?
Kobayashi: The first chapter is fascinating. I’m assigned to that one. It’s not a bad take on the story. It’s said to be a remake of Farewell to Yamato, but it starts quite differently. But there’s also a part that connects to the original work. I thought that side was good and very beautiful. The storyboard is done, but when it goes into production, “Maybe it can be corrected here?” and I’ll end up right back there. (Laughs)
Interviewer: This time too saw a lot of pictures being drawn, but you also show up all over the place in production-related areas.
Kobayashi: I don’t have a lot of time to do the work, so for example when there is a request from Director Habara, I’ll draw a concept directly into the storyboard. Then it can become a guideline as we move forward.
Interviewer: Are you under a lot of pressure for the remake to be a huge hit like Farewell to Yamato?
Kobayashi: I don’t worry about it. Even with Gundam I didn’t worry about it. That’s a story from the past. I hold it in my memory as something that was wonderful at the time. It’s just that the requirements of 2199 are different. Farewell was just one movie, and it maintains the feeling of tension very well. But if you make that into 26 episodes, there will be a lot of holes in the composition. That’s why you need to expand the content of the original, although we thought that just adding stuff for the sake of adding stuff would make it end up a little weird. Still, Mr. Fukui’s script had such a straightforward sense of, “Ah!” I am very thankful. There is plenty in this first chapter. I wondered if I could make Chapter 1 into two hours. (Laughs)
Interviewer: By the way, what is your relationship with Mr. Habara?
Kobayashi: It started with Yamato Resurrection. In fact, he was one of the candidates to direct Resurrection. I admire people who can withstand situations that break their heart 20 or 30 times over. Habara recovers pretty quickly. As expected, he’s a trooper. Besides, he’s at the center of Xebec Studio and is someone who fully grasps the power of a studio perfectly. It’s a real advantage being able to understand strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, under Mr. Habara you can expect this to be a great studio. (Laughs)
Interviewer: Mr. Fukui is a great Yamato lover, but I hear Mr. Habara is, too.
Kobayashi: No doubt. When he worked on Resurrection, he watched a DVD of Farewell on the side. He asked me, “Is it enjoyable?” to which I replied, “It’s fine, okay?!” (Laughs) But when I really want to make something seriously, I go at it to nearly the point of breakdown. I cooly become a quibbler and ask, “Can I say that this or that are fun to watch?” Still, even when I think, “Everyone’s going to see where this is coming from,” very often the response I get is, “I don’t get it.” Definitely.
Interviewer: In that way, by mixing the high temperature of Habara and the medium temperature of Kobayashi, a good work could come out of it.
Kobayashi: “I’ll do my best!” and “I love Yamato!!” and the like have made it what it is, but I have a feeling that’s also not quite right. You can often be mislead by fleeting passions, so I intend to remain strictly calm. Since this is how the audience likely thinks, I carried that into it this way. At any rate, we’re doing this according to a theory, carrying it out as a detailed plan. Everything seen in the visuals is being carefully planned.
Interviewer: then would you say everything a fan wants to see will be included?
Kobayashi: I think if you ask “Is it this?” or “Will it go this way?” it will surpass your expectations. Then you can start off in anticipation. “This time, we’ll be doing this!” You’ll see things you never anticipated. That’s the kind of work I’d like to make. Therefore, if you have an idea that doesn’t make you think, “It would be fascinating to show this,” I don’t think it makes sense to include it in the story. However, you can defeat your own purpose if you get drunk on yourself. Stay calm. It’s not being made to entertain you.
Interviewer: Finally, please share your enthusiasm for 2202.
Kobayashi: We’re aiming to make something that doesn’t bore the audience. I myself am useless if I’m bored. I fall asleep if I’m bored. (Laughs) Falling asleep is not good. Anyway, I want to make something that grabs you and says, “Hey, isn’t this interesting?” I absolutely don’t want to make something that you’ll walk away from after a few episodes, and I don’t intend for that to happen. I want it to be something you’ll pay to see again and again, otherwise it’s useless. Therefore, it’s essential for Chapter 1 to have the feeling of affecting the fate of the series. You can bet the game on it, so please look forward to it.
Special thanks to Neil Nadelman for translation support.
The interview in Ship’s Log #15 was accompanied by the following pages of Kobayashi’s design work from Yamato 2199. See enlargements of these pages here
I wonder who is going to be the mechanical animation director. Is Kobayashi overseeing the mechanical side?
Kobayashi will probably be too busy as an episodic director to handle mecha design and directing as Masanori Nishii did. We still don’t know as of November 2016 who will fill that role.