Harutoshi Fukui interview, December 2016

From Great Mechanics G, Winter 2016 issue

Before, during, and after the whole Yamato 2199 experience, this quarterly magazine from Futabasha consistently delivered the most in-depth and knowledgeable coverage (access them from the 2199 media index here), and they picked right up where they left off in this extended conversation with Yamato 2202 writer Harutoshi Fukui.

Writer/editor: Kenichiro Nanba

As a sequel to Space Battleship Yamato 2199, a full remake is being prepared of Farewell to Yamato, which premiered in August 1978 and excited all of Japan, and Yamato 2 which was broadcast on TV from October of the same year. On the other hand, it can be said that this work has been long-anticipated by knowing fans of Yamato 2199. And this time, writer Harutoshi Fukui, who succeeded in difficult tasks such as remakes and sequels of other works such as Mobile Suit Gundam and Captain Harlock, is in charge of each script and the series composition itself. It is approximately 60 days until the premiere screening. We asked Mr. Fukui about his aims for 2202

A sequel depicted on the temporal axis of Space Battleship Yamato 2199

From the time screenings of Yamato 2199 began in 2012, there were many voices that expected a remake of the sequel, Farewell to Yamato, Soldiers of Love (1978). It would be expected of Farewell which was, after all, Yamato‘s biggest hit work.

The social perception at the time was that anime was “TV Manga,” and treated as a product for children. But the first Yamato boom meant animation became acceptable as youth culture, the cutting edge of pop culture, so to speak.

On the other hand, the boom of Farewell after Yamato was bigger and more widespread. It was a historical work that showed the power and potential of anime as a social phenomenon. Nearly four years passed from the start of the first TV series to the premiere of Farewell, and as a result there were Yamato fans called the Farewell group (that is, Yamato fans who were first touched by Farewell) and since their number seemed larger, it’s only natural that a remake of Farewell would be eagerly awaited after the hit of 2199.

In fact, in addition to the explosive boom of Farewell among those who supported the first Yamato, elementary school children were attracted to the mecha, and plastic models (plamodels) also became a hit. The grandeur of the story and the beauty of the work were far deeper than an ordinary drama, impressing both young people and mainstream society from the start. Anime is not childish. Anime can be watched by anyone, including adults.

Now it recognized that the Yamato boom was a two-stage rocket consisting of Yamato and Farewell, so it can be said that we’ve taken the first step. On the other hand, the styles of Yamato and Farewell are also quite different, and there is also the pro and con of the shocking last scenes in Farewell and the contrasting ending of the TV series Yamato 2. Asking fans “Which do you like?” makes it a work that unexpectedly creates clear divisions.

In the first place, although the basic concepts are the same as the Yamato series, the purpose of the enemy and their actions was newly-prepared each time, and the only connection with the previous work was Dessler’s appearance as a guest. That is, it can also be said that the Yamato production policy was to always send off a new story.

As a result, context was sometimes ignored in terms of how the stories connect. The reason many fans dropped out of the Yamato series after The New Voyage and Be Forever Yamato was the lack of consistency. But all of Yamato can be enjoyable, including that.

2199 wasn’t just a nostalgic work for the 21st century, it became a big hit for its new concepts and modern interpretations that successfully resolved contradictions in a positive manner and succeeded in reviving the appeal of Yamato. One attention point of 2202 is that it is a sequel.

Since Gatlantis, the White Comet Empire, already appeared in 2199 it probably means that the worldview will be renovated. Also, since Garmillas is a surviving nation that was not destroyed, it already differs greatly from Farewell. How will the situation depicted in 2202 develop as it takes over from the previous work?

2202 is being produced by Director Nobuyoshi Habara, writer Harutoshi Fukui, and a staff from the core of the Farewell generation. What answers will they provide to Director Yutaka Izubuchi and the Yamato generation who started with 2199?

Harutoshi Fukui interview

I saw Farewell to Space Battleship Yamato through tears

Interviewer: Before asking about 2202, I’d like to start with your memories and impressions of the original work, Farewell to Yamato. It was first released in 1978 when you were about 10 years old. As a work that touched the so-called “Gundam generation” prior to Mobile Suit Gundam, it occupies an important position, doesn’t it?

Fukui: At that time I was in elementary school, 3rd or 4th grade. But to tell the truth, I didn’t see it in a theater when it was in release. The first Yamato movie, which was edited from the TV series, was broadcast on TV at the time Farewell came out, and that was my first Yamato experience. It was amazing. I was shocked to see what could be done with anime.

Then I heard, “This movie that seems to be opening is a sequel,” and I wanted to see it by all means, but I couldn’t go to a theater alone at that age. I begged my parents, “Can we please go see it together?” but I was told, “At your age, Kita Fox Story (a 1978 documentary) is for you.”

No matter what, Kita Fox Story couldn’t bury my desire to see Farewell to Yamato by even 1mm. (Laughs) So whenever I hear the title Farewell to Yamato now, the first thing I imagine is the picture of the Kita fox on an ice floe. (Laughs)

Maybe if I’d watched the TV broadcast with my parents, I think we would have gone together.

A line drawing of Yamato that was published along with the 2202 production announcement. There seems to be no change from the basic 2199 design, but since CG production has shifted away from Sunrise D.I.D. this time, it may be depicted differently.

Interviewer: Well, at the time it was “TV Manga” rather than anime. Everyone had to deal with the misunderstandings of their parents. (Laughs) So, rather than Farewell being the work related to 2202, you watched Space Battleship Yamato 2, the TV series that began after the premiere which can be called another story.

Fukui: That’s right. I couldn’t go to a theater, but I soon learned that Yamato 2 would be broadcast on TV. But information sources were limited in those days, so as I watched it I had the feeling that I didn’t really understanding the relationship between Farewell and Yamato 2.

Interviewer: That’s right. I never dreamed that the endings would be different. What did you watch in the days of the first TV series? Back then, Space Battleship Yamato, Girl of the Alps Heidi and Monkey Army were all being broadcast [in the same time slot]. Kids have memories of factions depending on which one they watched. (Laughs)

Fukui: I think I probably watched Heidi, but I don’t remember clearly. I was a first grader in elementary school back then, and I didn’t know much about how TV worked.

Interviewer: Yamato 2 came exactly in the Yamato boom and many boys in my class watched it.

Fukui: That’s right. More information became available in various ways at that time, so even though I hadn’t seen Farewell in a theater I somehow knew the plotline.

Interviewer: Everyone was reading the manga adaptation and had enough information.

Fukui: But in fact I stopped watching Yamato 2 in the middle. I knew that everyone died in Farewell and Yamato was supposed to have sunk, but it would have to revive when Be Forever Yamato was released the next year (1980). I thought, “If that happened, what kind of extraordinary thing would bring them back?” When I stared at it I realized, “This is new!” That’s what it was. I would just have to judge it by that criteria from then on.

Interviewer: Everyone survives the ending of Yamato 2, and it became a hot topic among kids in class to say, “It’s to make a sequel!” If you’d only seen Farewell and didn’t watch Yamato 2 to the end, you wouldn’t have known about its development.

Fukui: That’s right. There were few anime works that became a big topic of conversation then, which meant that Yamato was really big at the time. Yamato was a topic we could talk about in class. Because of that, the atmosphere was that you watched Yamato unconditionally.

Interviewer: As the Yamato boom expanded, I think there was a temperature difference that made your generation different from the first Yamato generation.

Both the preferences and way of thinking were very different between elementary students and high school students. There was also the “first Yamato group,” which went to the extreme as “the faction that didn’t approve of anything after Farewell.” I think it’s a characteristic of Yamato for schools of fans to be quite different.

Fukui: It felt like Be Forever Yamato was the peak of the boom for my generation. More than half of my class saw it, and the feeling was that “I didn’t see it” would make you inferior.

I understand Kodai’s feelings as I get older

Interviewer: Then when did you actually see Farewell?

Fukui: The first time I saw it was when it was broadcast on TV for the first time, about a year and a half after it was in theaters. I’d gotten information about it in various ways by then, and even though I’d seen the TV special The New Voyage it still had me in tears. That was the first time an anime made me cry. The feeling was, “It got me!”

Interviewer: That was the time robot anime began to sprout, like Zanbot 3 and Gundam.

Fukui: I didn’t know anything about that, and my attitude was, “Now that there are space ships, robots are impossible.” There was no way I could imagine standing in line to buy a robot plamodel a year after Be Forever Yamato. No way. (Laughs)

Interviewer: While there are many who feel that there’s a slight gap in the sense of childishness between Yamato and Gundam, there’s no gap at all in practical terms. Have you seen Farewell again since becoming an adult?

Fukui: Several times. When I was 18, the video rental era first arrived. I watched it with the feeling of, “I remember being impressed by it, but what if I see it now?” After having seen Final Yamato, I personally felt Yamato was over at that time.

Yamato was already weathering, and I only had the memory of being impressed enough to cry long ago, so I thought, “If I see it now it will probably make me laugh.” But I wept buckets. Farewell was unaffected by the passage of time. It stuck in my mind even more than when I first saw it at age 11.

Interviewer: In the story, a radio wave arrives from space saying “Please save space from this crisis” and they rush out without much confirmation, ignoring orders, which is kind of ridiculous, but it doesn’t matter because the first part is so exciting.

Fukui: Farewell is definitely that kind of story. As I get older, I have come to understand Kodai’s feelings about ignoring orders and rushing away.

From childhood you begin to have the experience of “this isn’t the world I thought it was” and it’s common when you’re an adult to feel helpless as things close in on you. In Farewell the people feel betrayed by the current conditions and when they get word of a “space crisis” they go rushing off. And in doing so, they find the reality awaiting them that they so wanted to avoid. It’s like a caricature of reality, where you get hit hard with how there are those for whom it’s all about how “power makes the world go round.”

You have to fight against it, but of course you can’t win in reality. They are going to die, but it’s human nature to say, “There may be a way to finish without betraying oneself.” It feels very transparent. Farewell is sometimes criticized as “glorifying suicide” or “right wing,” but that isn’t how it’s composed. Of course, I didn’t feel all that when I saw it as an 18-year old, but as I get older it gradually becomes visible.

Interviewer: When you only look at the surface layer, “I risk my life for Earth [and space]” seems to glorify suicide, but that’s not the essence. It’s a battle of human nature, so as a result Kodai has no choice but to fight.

Fukui: In the latter half, Kodai has already lost his sanity. Everyone cries at Kodai’s final words. Through my tears I sort of felt like, “I can’t talk sanely to this person [Kodai] any more.” At the end I wondered if Kodai was just gone and we were seeing the fantasy in his head, right?

Interviewer: I see. After your experience with Farewell it seems inevitable that you would participate in Yamato 2202. How did you get the opportunity?

Fukui: I was contacted when I was still working on Gundam UC. Then after a while I was contacted again, and at that time I talked about focusing on “love” as the theme.

When speaking of Farewell, a lot of people surely think, “Not just Yamato but also Andromeda“.
Like the
Yamato of 2199, this Andromeda is redesigned by Junichiro Tamamori. It doesn’t seem to have changed,
but it actually has a modern form and density. It will be fun to compare the amazing Tamamori designs.

What Yamato must thoroughly explore is “Love”

Interviewer: Soldiers of Love is the subtitle for Farewell to Yamato, but it’s also unexpected. But when I think about it, I realize that “love” is unexpectedly the theme of Yamato. Additionally, when you look at the script for Episode 1 of 2202, it indirectly tells right from the show’s outset how the theme is love that the fans of Farewell will find coming from an unexpected direction. And their expectations will be more along the lines of, “Ah, I get it, they’re going at it from this angle.”

Fukui: Gundam UC took shape when I focused on the New Type, which is the main subject of the Gundam series. I thought it might be possible for Yamato to take shape by going in the direction of “love.”

I broke down the development of the latter half of Farewell in various ways, thinking, “How did it become like that and how did they feel in those days?” Then I came to think that the “love” theme could proceed in the present day.

Interviewer: If you were to play Farewell straight as it is, I think there would be some difficult parts due to the difference in the times. Have you thought about that?

Fukui: The mental part I talked about before is another thing, but I think the basic storyline can be carried out. The original is still good, so I think it should follow the way it was originally made. “Love of God” and “Love of faith” can easily be converted to madness. Don’t you think we’re witnessing such things when you look at the story now? We are aware that we’re living through such a time, and if we’re going to do that story I think it should properly hold to that.

Yamato is a work that was made amidst a dialogue with the era

Interviewer: One essence of the Yamato series was that images of past and modern Japan were reflected in each work. Will it be the same for 2202?

Fukui: That’s the starting point. Without a doubt, the first Yamato was made by people who experienced World War II. Our generation has never been told “The country could fall.” All that we’d gotten from it is that “Apparently the air raids on Tokyo were really serious.” It was the first Yamato that vividly depicted a country that would be destroyed. Accurate records and memories of what the war was like hadn’t been passed on to our generation, and memories of personal experiences could be said to be either incredibly distorted or completely forgotten.

I think everyone has come to understand it as a result of the Tohoku earthquake (March, 2011). Yamato clearly had the atmosphere of a hidden era. You could hear the echo of miserable times, and I think the voices saying “It was like this back then and we really went through that” could be heard for the first time through Yamato.

The catharsis you feel when seeing it could be called nationalism, but not nationalism. It could be called, “This is what happens when nationalism runs away with you.” For instance, you can see the development of how Yamato and Garmillas both are riven by internal strife in the end. The voice of the first work was, “We had to share this with all of you through that war.”

When you get to Farewell, the memory of that war is increasingly fading away, and even though only a year passed in the story it feels more like 30 years have passed in the creator’s consciousness. And amidst that, I think the story is built on the question of “how should we confront the world?” and rushing out resolved to mutiny. I think both Yamato and Farewell were productions that were made amidst a dialogue with the era. And while there’s a point that must be pinned down as you have this “dialogue with the era,” the current era is very easy to pin down, and so I think this is an ideal opportunity.

Those who went through the Tohoku earthquake can now more easily understand the context of World War II, and it may be easier to perceive that premise. The suffering of the people in the story is like our suffering, and I think we might be able to face the huge reality of a White Comet Empire together.

Why does it retain a power to compel adults to look back on it?

Interviewer: Though 2202 is a remake of Farewell, it is also a sequel to 2199. In 2199, Yamato returned home from Iscandar with its Wave-Motion Gun sealed up. It seems like a difficult concept to hand over from 2199. The Wave-Motion Gun is likened to a weapon of mass destruction, so isn’t it an idea that would constrain the story?

Fukui: The impact of that concept was something I very much preserved. If they could reconcile with Garmillas and not seal up the Wave-Motion Gun, Kodai and the others would have nothing to shoulder. In reality, people who had to go on while carrying a tragedy on their shoulders were tormented because they couldn’t do anything about it. Dealing with that was something I couldn’t leave out.

The things that accumulated in 2199 are now a burden they have to bear. In other words, despite Captain Okita’s promise to Starsha to seal up the Wave-Motion Gun, it was not honored. This becomes the basis for Kodai’s actions.

Since the Wave-Motion Gun is a weapon of mass destruction, it can also overlap with the issue of nuclear power. I think it’s possible to draw a connection with the reality of, “using it is evil, but we can’t live without it.”

Interviewer: How did the conversation begin in the staff meetings with Director Habara and others?

Fukui: Between the first Yamato, Farewell, and Be Forever, the layers of fans expanded steadily. We examined those layers to get a grasp on them. After we got past “what is my generation” and problems of taste, we got down to, “Why is it that after all this time this work still has the power to make an adult look back on it who doesn’t watch anime?” The feeling we went with was, “Let’s make this by starting there and matching it to the present day.”

Because the story proceeds with some abstract ideas, it was difficult for the staff to understand everything and it may be said that they couldn’t easily picture it for the screen. Therefore, I thought that if I added scenes from Farewell to the script, they would get the image. But everyone was suspicious at first. From there it was the gradual feeling of “Do you want to do something like this?” and they got it.

In some meetings I asked, “What do you think of as a rival to this work?” These days, people who currently pay the most money for content are watching dramas from other countries. I’m talking about competing with that. Overseas dramas have a sense of speed and density, so if we go for that feeling while also depicting human beings neatly and consistently, we can get around the audience’s preconceptions in a good way.

If we do such a thing with Yamato, I think we hold to the starting point of “speaking to the times.”

Fans will come back if you succeed in making them cry

Interviewer: On the other hand, one of the charms of Farewell is its gorgeousness. Not just Andromeda, but also the Earth fleet and the White Comet Empire fleet. They were extravagent, friend and foe alike.

Fukui: That’s right. One of my mechanic obsessions is the large battleship on the White Comet side. It was really hard to build that plamodel. (Laughs) I had to pick up small parts with tweezers to put them on the bow. I don’t remember completing it in my childhood. Parts were sure to disappear when I went back to it the next day. I remember it being very frustrating. That may be one reason I introduce it relatively early in this story, since I want us to get a plamodel made with current technology as soon as possible.

Interviewer: By the way, regarding the mecha, there are people with a pedigree on hand such as Director Habara and Makoto Kobayashi. In that sense, were there any demands made on the script from the production side?

Fukui: No, in fact Assistant Director Makoto Kobayashi drew some amazing concepts during the script meeting. Of course, I accept those amazing concepts and use them to flesh out the script even more.

Interviewer: Finally, please tell me about your hopes for 2202.

Fukui: Including myself, I think there are a lot of people who cried when they saw Farewell. If the work called 2202 can get you to say “It made me cry,” then I think we’ll succeed and get the fans to come back.

Interviewer: The excitement of the fans increased as the story of Gundam UC progressed, so it should also be that way with Yamato 2202.

Fukui: Yamato has a harder time than Gundam UC with the generation in their 20s and 30s. Maybe it’s like our generation when they say, “You like Ultraman, why don’t you watch Moonlight Mask?” I mean, while you might carelessly say, “They watch Gundam, right? So they’ll watch Gundam UC, too.” But the possibility is high that Yamato won’t reach the younger generation.

Now I’m very interested in how 2202 will be received by such a generation.

Interviewer: Thank you very much.

The End

Special thanks to Neil Nadelman for translation support.

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