Space Battleship Yamato: the Hio Manga
When we consider that there were multiple Yamato manga adaptations being produced at the same time, it’s tempting to think of the artists as competitors, all trying to one-up each other and lure readers away. It’s refreshing, then, to find out that not only did no such competition exist between Leiji Matsumoto and Akira Hio, the latter was a great admirer of the former. Here are Hio’s own words on the subject, translated from a 2005 essay:
“Since my childhood days, I liked the works of Matsumoto and Shotaro Ishinomori. I collected both of their works by buying monthly magazines (including the supplementary booklets they contained) from the local library, when they went on sale at a price I could afford on a child’s allowance. I picked up magazines like Shonen Sunday and read through Matsumoto’s War Roman series (which tended to focus a lot on the Zero Fighter) and his other titles such as Denko Ozma or Submarine Super 99. I particularly liked Super 99 because the the story, setting and mecha (a giant SF submarine) had a great influence on me, with the designs being the best around.
“I first met Leiji Matsumoto when I was 15. I visited his house to ask him for a critique of the doujinshi (fanzine) I was working on. I was only planning to stop by for a few minutes, but as soon as he saw my drawing of a battlefield, he shouted, ‘You’re using the wrong gun here! This is a hunting gun! Listen, a military weapon is something like this…’ and he began showing me his prized collection of things like his German Army helmet, and three hours went by. I understand that even now he’s just as passionate about things as he was all those years ago, and that still brings a smile to me.
“After that, I was able to get Matsumoto’s critique on my doujinshi many times, but when I turned 18 and became Ishinomori’s assistant, I was unable to meet with Matsumoto thereafter. Actually at the time, Ishinomori didn’t have any openings, so I was thinking of asking Matsumoto if I could become his assistant. Then Ishinomori suddenly had an opening, and to this day I still wonder if I made the right choice, taking this fork in the road?
“I’ll never forget the next time I met Matsumoto, a few years later when he was in the planning stages for Space Battleship Yamato! There was a mountain of unbelievable treasure; Matsumoto-Sensei’s artwork and rough sketches showed unprecedented detail in the mecha designs. Was this what I was going to work on? I felt giddy with excitement as the passionate wave of a fellow mecha fanatic’s soul washed over me. At that moment, I felt like a pirate who had just opened up a treasure chest of sparkling gold, laughing maniacally.”
Other manga by Akira Hio: Combattler V (1977), Siren Senshi (1980, 82), Odin (1985)
Akira Hio’s adaptation of the first Space Battleship Yamato series varied from its source material as much as any other early retelling of the story. Unlike Leiji Matsumoto, Hio wasn’t working to meet a monthly deadline for a periodical. His publisher (Asahi Sonorama) would debut it in paperback form. This dictated a much earlier start time, since all 206 pages of the first book were to be published only a month after the TV series began.
Thus, Hio had to begin work in spring 1974, when the series was still in preproduction and there wasn’t even a pilot film to look at yet. At best, he could only use the rough designs and early scripts (by Keisuke Fujikawa) that existed when his pencil first hit paper. From then on, he had no choice but to fill in the blanks with his own vivid imagination.
Sun Comics Edition, Asahi Sonorama. Volume 1: 11/2/74 Volume 2: 12/25/74 Volume 3: 2/20/75
It is also evident that Hio’s deadline pressure was just as intense as that of everyone else involved with Yamato. His second paperback (201 pages) arrived in bookstores less than two months after the first, and his third (216 pages) was published just two months after that. This was late February 1975, and the TV series still had six weeks to go. With a schedule like that, it’s obvious why a hand like Fujikawa’s was needed to guide the project to completion.
From left: Sonorama Manga Paperback Edition, December 1976. “Sun Wide” Edition, August 1993
Partly out of respect for Yamato itself and partly out of the Hio manga’s nature as a curio, Asahi Sonorama has reprinted it many times, first in 1976 (with an early appearance by Studio Nue’s Yamato on the cover), then as a single-volume “wide” edition in 1993, and once more in 1999. Another publisher, Media Factory, brought it back in digest size along with the rest of Hio’s Yamato library in 2005.
From left: Asahi Sonorama reprints, August 1999. Yamato Library Edition, Media Factory, February 2005
What follows is a description of this manga, highlighting its differences from the anime series. Clicking on the links embedded in this text will open a page of the manga for examination. (Remember that manga pages are read from right to left.) All artwork is © Akira Hio.
The story begins in the customary place, with Captain Okita and Mamoru Kodai in a losing battle against the Gamilas fleet at Pluto. Okita’s vessel is the sole survivor, and Okita witnesses the ship from Iscandar as it shoots by toward its crash-landing on Mars. There, Kodai and Shima actually go inside the ship to find the body of their mysterious benefactor.
The story of TV episode 1 is largely intact, except that Kodai and Shima discover the hull of the ancient Yamato sitting above ground. They defend it from an attack by Gamilas tanks on the surface of Earth (which still has breathable air, as in Matsumoto’s version). They are called to the bridge the next day, and the Gamilas renew their attack, this time using fighters to mow down Earth’s tank brigades before laying siege on the ship. Yamato sheds its rusty skin and shoots back, easily wiping out the enemy. Word of this reaches Dessler immediately, and he is visibly shocked.
Okita rounds up the crew, their families say goodbye, and Yamato launches just in time to avoid an enemy missile (which looks nothing like the “fatman” missile in the anime). Hio’s Yamato is based on the earliest recognizable version of the ship, but mutates as the story progresses into a balloon-like version with a very large lower hull. His drawings of the characters are similarly primordial, springing out of early Matsumoto designs that were heavily modified before the animators began their work. Additionally, Hio’s drawing style is strongly influenced by his mentor Shotaro Ishinimori (creator of Cyborg 009), which puts the character design through yet another filter. All this makes Hio’s first manga an interesting time capsule with an appeal all its own.
Following the launch, Kodai and a squadron of Cosmo Zeros fight off more enemies so the ship can safely warp to Mars. This, too, instantly reaches Dessler’s ears, but for some reason he is far less concerned about it this time. Yamato sets down on Mars with minor damage and shoots down a Gamilas spy plane, then soon finds herself pulled down to the surface of Jupiter. As in the anime, the wave-motion gun makes short work of the Gamilas base on the floating continent, and we are on our way again.
After a brief retelling of the Titan episode, Gamilas’ Pluto fleet lines up to stop Yamato at the edge of the solar system and pitched battle ensues. There is no Reflex Gun in this story, just ship-to-ship combat and a bombing run in which Kodai’s Cosmo Zeros wipe out the Pluto base (killing Schulz in the process). The enemy fleet falls against Yamato‘s superior might, and farewells are said to Earth with 335 days left.
With the exception of a few story details and Hio’s take on the character designs, volume 1 sticks pretty close to what was seen in the first ten TV episodes, eight of which were written by Fujikawa. It is with volume 2 that the resemblance ends…
Yamato is stuck in an asteroid field, and tensions run high. When a Gamilas fleet bears down on them, Sanada invents the magnetic asteroid ring system to fend them off. Following a white-knuckle passage through an enemy mine field, Captain Okita collapses and Dr. Sado learns of his fatal radiation poisoning; the captain’s days are numbered.
On Gamilas, Dessler assigns General Romel to personally handle the Yamato problem. (The name is actually spelled that way in the manga, though the character fills the same role as General Dommel/Lysis in the anime.) He leads his fleet against Yamato, but plans go awry when a second spaceship sporting a skull and crossbones interrupts a shootout and scatters Romel’s ships. The ship pulls up alongside Yamato and the captain introduces himself over the radio: it’s Captain Harlock! The pirate turns over much-needed supplies and flies off into the dark. Kodai wonders if it could possibly have been his brother in disguise, but dismisses the notion as wishful thinking.
Romel, however, has not given up the chase. When Yamato warps away, his ship matches their exact timing and the shootout continues in “warp space.” They fight to a stalemate that only ends when Yamato drops out of warp and loses its bearings. A call from Starsha gives them a new heading and the voyage continues.
Troubled that Romel has not yet succeeded in his mission, Dessler assigns Geru (Volgar in Star Blazers) to take out a support fleet. Yamato arrives at an unnamed planet and a landing party discovers its humanoid inhabitants, who are docile until Gamilas ships appear in the sky. They reveal themselves to be cyborgs, former slaves of the Gamilas who are here in hiding. They refer to their planet as Balan. Yamato dukes it out in orbit with Geru’s ships and they withdraw.
At the behest of Kodai, Okita agrees to strike at a nearby Gamilas asteroid base to protect the cyborgs. The base is defended by a large laser cannon (which looks exactly like the Reflex Gun, but does not use reflector satellites) so Kodai and Analyzer infiltrate the base to destroy it from the inside. Word of this reaches Romel and Geru, who have joined forces, but Yamato is about to fall into another trap–the Sargasso Sea of space.
A cluster of dead, floating ships surround one large vessel that still has power. Kodai and Shima investigate to find a shapeshifting monster that has lured all the others to their deaths–but not this time! The monster is killed and Yamato couples with its ship for an energy boost that breaks them free.
Furious at his officers’ continued failure, Dessler orders their combined fleet to take up station over Balan and stop Yamato for good. A huge battle ensues, and though Yamato fights back with everything she’s got, the sheer numbers start to work against her. Suddenly, Captain Harlock appears and turns the tide! Okita orders the ship down to Balan, where they take cover in the ocean. As the Gamilas ships try to bomb them from the air, Kodai leads Yamato‘s tank corps(!) to the surface where they commence an attack on the Gamilas’ land base. General Hiss (Krypt in Star Blazers) orders a protesting Romel to withdraw and leave Geru to finish the battle.Without Romel, the Gamilas forces fall quickly.
Meeting up with Harlock on the surface of the planet, the crew learns that he did not help them out of altruism this time; he was paid to get rid of the Gamilas. With Harlock’s motives now in doubt, Yamato returns to her mission. There are 200 days left.
While Yamato‘s crew expresses uncertainty about their mission, a conspiracy is afoot on Gamilas. Dessler is furious over the defeat at Balan, which Hiss blames on Romel; it turns out that both Hiss and Geru are working against him. Romel is grounded and Geru takes out another fleet against Yamato.
Captain Okita, whose health is failing, promotes Kodai to deputy captain. His first act is to outfox Geru’s fleet by warping the ship a split-second before being hit by a barrage of laser fire, making Geru think he has destroyed them.
With the enemy’s eyes off them for a while, they approach the planet Gelnium, but are attacked by a gigantic drill missile that lodges itself in the lower hull. Kodai’s next brilliant plan is to put the entire ship into a counter spin which dislodges the missile. This catches Geru’s attention, and the battle resumes. Geru’s ship is damaged and flees, leaving the rest of his ships behind to be destroyed while he limps back to Gamilas.
There, the conspiracy is about to break wide open. Dessler marches past his minions and takes his throne–then is promptly electrocuted and killed! Hiss and Geru step forward to reveal themselves, demanding that the Gamilas forces obey their commands. But then the trap is sprung; Romel set up a Dessler decoy to be killed, thus revealing the conspirators to their real leader. Romel executes them both and is given back his command.
Yamato crew members are mysteriously turning up dead, run through with long needles. Kodai and Analyzer discover it to be the work of a female Gamilas spy calling herself Agent Iroze…and they waste no time taking care of business. Shortly afterward, Yamato arrives at Iscandar and after congratulating all of them, Captain Okita finally succumbs to his illness, dying before he can complete his mission. Following his funeral, a second planet appears behind Iscandar. Kodai realizes the truth: it is Gamilas, and Romel’s fleet instantly appears to confirm this.
The battle quickly comes to a boil, both sides evenly matched. Once again, it’s Harlock who shows up to tip the scales, killing Romel and barely escaping with his life. Kodai orders Yamato down to the surface, where the Gamilas capital is carpet-bombed out of existence. And now, Iscandar awaits.
Queen Starsha hands over the components of the Cosmo Cleaner (which fit into a few small boxes) and the crew takes off, crying tears of joy. Her final task completed, Starsha pulls a lever and Iscandar explodes, never to be heard from again. Now just one enemy remains: Dessler escaped the destruction of Gamilas and mounts one last desperate charge. Yamato evades ramming by flipping upside-down so that Dessler’s ship merely grazes the lower hull, and Harlock pops in one last time to destroy Dessler for good.
Harlock finally reveals himself to be Mamoru Kodai and flies off to his own fate. Yamato returns safely to Earth, Kodai and Yuki find love and thank the benefactors who made their new future possible.
The manga ended here, but this was only the beginning of Akira Hio’s relationship with Yamato. He would, in fact, go on to become the only manga artist to adapt all five of the movies. Exactly three years after volume 3 arrived in bookstores, Hio’s next Yamato mission would begin.