Harutoshi Fukui interview

Gigazine, February 24, 2017. See the original post here.

The meaning of making Space Battleship Yamato 2202 Soldiers of Love in this age

Interview with series writer Harutoshi Fukui

Interviewer: The previous work, Yamato 2199, was screened as seven chapters in theaters, broadcast as a TV anime afterward, and became a hit series with Blu-ray and DVD sales that exceeded half a million copies. It seems to be said that, including the plastic models, it reached the “100 billion yen [1 million dollars] economic zone.” Now that you are participating in the sequel, Yamato 2202, how do you see the excitement of the previous work?

Fukui: Mobile Suit Gundam UC was done during the same period. Both Gundam and Yamato seemed to have a layer of mania that couldn’t be escaped, and that gave rise to the feeling that it was possible do business with them.

Interviewer: Did you think 2199 would be such a hit when it began?

Fukui: Well, in regard to that, the basis for 2202 is Farewell to Yamato, which mobilized an audience of over four million people, didn’t it?

Interviewer: It was surely the second biggest Japanese movie released that year.

Fukui: When thinking about it, there is also the idea that, “In fact, we haven’t yet gotten one tenth of the possible customers,” so I have to dig into that. This is my job.

Interviewer: At the time of the first public announcement, the catch phrase “This love will shake the cosmos” was attached, and I heard that your written proposal said, “Love is the subject.” Is it true that in fact it was Yamato that made the word “love” come into fashion?

Fukui: Of course, there is the word “love” itself, but there was a book called Looking at Love and Death, love was a classic movie theme, and a 24-hour TV special called Love Saves the Earth for example, but it was certainly Yamato that provided a basis for how to use it.

Interviewer: It’s not uncommon to use it now.

Fukui: It caught on and expanded, but in the early 1980s the word “love” became stale and “now feelings” started to come out. So Gundam changed the word “love” into “sorrow” like in Soldiers of Sorrow, and it was decided to make the switch with, “This is the time to go with the changes and make it a little more dry, right?” Yamato might have provided the reason for that change.

Farewell to Yamato originally left off beautifully, and the word “love” should have settled into legend, but in fact Yamato came back less than a year later. (Laughs) So it’s natural for people to think, “What was it that impressed me so much?” and from that point the word “love” started to become obsolete. However, this is a story felt by the generation that came before mine, and since I’m part of the generation that started to watch Yamato in real time after it was resurrected, I think there was a different way to absorb it.

Interviewer: I heard that your opportunity to learn about the first Yamato was when you saw a TV broadcast of the compilation movie from the first series. You also said that when you wanted to go and see Farewell, your parents said “Make it Kita Fox Story.” Did you first learn of the existence of Yamato from this movie rather than reruns?

Fukui: Yes, I was a third-grader at the time. I was completely outside the target audience, so I first learned about Yamato through the feature film. When I saw it I thought, “This is something amazing, such a serious manga.” At the time the word “anime” was still in doubt, so it was called “TV manga.”

Interviewer: Like in the Toei Manga Festivals. [Children’s film festivals from Toei Animation Studio.]

Fukui: It was good to get the shock of the feature film, but it was a defeat that I had to see it at my relative’s house…

Interviewer: Defeat? (Laughs)

Fukui: If I could have seen it together with my parents, they might have thought, “Well, that’s okay.” But since I watched it at a relative’s house, my parents didn’t see it.

Interviewer: It became a form of hearsay.

Fukui: That’s right. Even if I’d said, “This work called Space Battleship Yamato is very interesting, so let’s go see it,” they would have said, “What’s that, a manga?” So they said “Instead we’ll take you to a movie that’s good for you,” and we went to see Kita Fox Story. So every time Yamato is broadcast, the scene of the Kita fox on the ice floe in Kita Fox Story flashes through my head. (Laughs)

Interviewer: The impression of that was strong, indeed. (Laughs) If your parents had seen the first movie at the time, they might have said, “You can go to Yamato.”

Fukui: I felt that way. But at that time, “adults watching anime” was impossible. There was no reason for them to see it other than in relation to a child. After Yamato, adults watched anime too, which I think is hard to imagine now because we’re in a world where they’re fans who chase after a work, too.

Interviewer: As you say, it feels completely different.

Fukui: For example…I’m With Mother is a program for small children. When you hear that even adults cry over the mini-dramas in it, at first you’d think “No way.” Even though it’s a mini-drama with puppets, even adults in their 40s and 50s are impressed. If the news of that spreads you think, “What’s that?” and “Is there something wrong with the people who watch that?”

Interviewer: It’s like “This must be a joke” and you take it with a grain of salt.

Fukui: “Doing drama in anime” is a special thing. Of course, it’s not like that wasn’t done before, but since a child’s eye can’t discern such things, there seemed to be anime fans in the dark times before Yamato who felt, “The world doesn’t understand me at all.”

Interviewer: I see…

Fukui: “Making a story with anime” is natural now. But in those days, “I’ll write a story and express it in anime” was not the case. “Selling toys” was the purpose, and a company would say, “If we’re selling chewing gum, rather than just selling chewing gum we’ll get to the children through manga characters on TV” and you’d get extreme stories without good content. You had to be subversive to tell a decent story in such an environment. Moreover, reaching to do content that had been untouched by anything to that point, including Japanese live-action films, and doing it well, was an amazing aspect of Yamato.

Interviewer: That’s how anime became a “social phenomenon.”

Fukui: I think my analogy to a puppet show mini-drama was a good one. If you were told that a two-and-a-half hour puppet show was made, you’d think, “uh…really?” And if teenagers went to see it and came back crying you’d think, “What on Earth is it?” That was the impact it had.

Interviewer: Before the production presentation was held [in September 2016], a message about the production was announced in March. There, you wrote, “We must repeat this message lest it be broken, and be confident that a true revival of Yamato is being created.” I think 2199 was a considerable hit as a recent anime work, but when you wrote “a true revival,” didn’t you think it had already been revived?

Fukui: It’s metaphorical. Let’s say you went on a group event. Nothing to do with anime, it could just be a hometown event in your community. Could you talk about Space Battleship Yamato on the spot?

Interviewer: No…but maybe if you shared a hobby with someone there…

Fukui: Of course, but if you tried to catch people openly talking about that topic, you couldn’t. But if you knew Space Battleship Yamato back in those days, there was a feeling of, “Did you see that? I saw it!” There was a “social phenomenon” that resulted from mobilizing four million people to see Farewell to Yamato.

Interviewer: It wasn’t strange to ask, “Did you read today’s Jump?” [manga magazine] was it?

Fukui: If you think about that, including Final Yamato, has it been revived? We have to climb back up to the heights it once achieved and cross over there. If we don’t at least reach the same point, we can’t say it’s truly “revived.”

Interviewer: “Did you see it?” “I saw it, I saw it! It was good!” It’s necessary to take it to that level.

Fukui: Yes, yes. Your Name is a nice example. I think it needs to be a state comparable to that.

Interviewer: And if someone says, “Actually, I haven’t seen it yet” it becomes a secret confession…

Fukui: And when you say, “You saw it, how was it?” it will be at a level where the topic naturally comes up at a group event.

Interviewer: Hmm, what a power…

Fukui: It was reborn with 2199, but I think a lot of people still think “Yamato is an old work, isn’t it?” But in the old days, Yamato was a big hit movie like Your Name, and if you hear that you might feel a little better about watching it, right? Actually, I want young people to see Farewell, which was the starting point. I wonder how they’d feel when they see it now. What kind of significance would the remake have after they see it? I’d like them to see 2202 again and compare it.

Interviewer: I see.

Fukui: Of course, if they want to watch it as a continuation of 2199, I can say “Welcome home!” and assure them that they won’t be disappointed. But other than that, to those who think, “I’m not familiar with that” or “I saw Gundam UC and don’t know what to expect with Yamato,” I think if you see Farewell and then look at 2202, I think you will understand that “there is a reason to make this right now.”

Interviewer: I heard that loading up 2202 with the number 2 implies Yamato 2, whereas Soldiers of Love is the same subtitle used in Farewell. Will Farewell basically be the base?

Fukui: If Farewell was the base, the ending would already be naturally decided. But I don’t know yet! (Laughs) The people who saw both Farewell and Yamato 2 — I don’t think anyone saw only one or the other (laughs) — but whichever one you saw, they’ll say “I know this picture!” when they see parts that are completely reproduced.

Interviewer: With 2199 and Yamato Resurrection which was released in 2009, I think there is a new generation of fans that don’t know Farewell or Yamato 2. How will you appeal to such fans?

Fukui: A new generation of people simply wouldn’t be interested in the term “Soldiers of Love” any more, would they? (Laughs) But at the time the subtitle was on a movie that was a big hit like Your Name, so I thought we should make it so “the current work is not ashamed of this title.” If you had to change Soldiers of Love, it would mean there was no reason to do this work in the first place.

Interviewer: Merely naming it Space Battleship Yamato 2202 wouldn’t make sense?

Fukui: There would be no point, because I think you’d only pull in 80% of Yamato 2199‘s audience. If Your Name is remade in 50 years, surely the title should be Your Name or something close to it. I don’t think anyone would change it to a completely different name. It’s the same thing. If it was, “It’s impossible to call it Your Name, so let’s make it something more current,” then I’d say, “Don’t make it.” Even if I think the words are impossible now, being able to turn that around and say, “It’s necessary to use them because it’s now,” then for the first time doing it has meaning.

Interviewer: When Gundam UC was produced, you said “the content is becoming porridge,” and it was touched on even in work materials for 2202. Isn’t 2202 a porridge that’s worth eating?

Fukui: I’ve seen a lot of anime nowadays that are generic and violent, asking you to not think about anything as you “slurp them down.” But for those who aren’t part of the anime fan layer right now and might be thinking, “Isn’t there something else worth eating?” they may be worried or at a loss, and I think this is a work that shows them some kind of path. Those who saw Farewell at the time are asking for it. There is a side of fiction that’s about “forgetting reality,” but there is also the aspect of “how do we get over this reality,” and I want this to be a time for developing that thought.

There’s a part of anime where the emphasis is placed on “escape from reality.” Something in live action might create a hellish picture that would offend people, but because this is a medium that can express things well, including a spirit of critique, I want to use that function properly. That was the case with Gundam and originally with Yamato because it was such a work, so I want to firmly inherit that spirit.

Interviewer: I see.

Fukui: I might say something that gets stuck in my throat and I have to swallow, so I can’t talk about the things that will correspond to that. So I do it carefully with both Gundam and Yamato with content where I can expect the audience to do some of the chewing to a certain extent.

These days a lot of overseas dramas are delivered on the net, right? It is assumed that the viewer will pay for it. People are prepared to see it and say, “I’ll consume this at this time.” These people are different from the layer that says, “Let’s look for something interesting on YouTube.” Those who only watch YouTube are probably not in the habit of spending money to buy content, so it’s useless to think, “Let’s see if they buy it.” But on the other hand, some people say, “I want to see something more interesting, so I’ll spare the time and money to see it.” If so, I thought I could make a firm appeal to those people. If you do this, people on the other side would say, “I don’t need such a thing” and stay away.

Interviewer: Hmm…

Fukui: But there are surprisingly few animation works trying to throw the ball toward “the people who will surely buy it.” Everyone thinks, “We have to appeal to young people,” and “We have to respond to the net era” and “Only this side.” There is the feeling that even if you throw the ball there, it will not return. It’s better to take it to the person who will pay money for it. Information spreading, the so-called “Buzz power,” causes a commotion when it rises momentarily, but sales don’t go up much. The other side of the layer won’t suddenly expand. There is a certain accumulation of sales. 2199 is said to have sold half a million DVDs and Blu-rays.

Interviewer: Yes.

Fukui: Gundam UC sold 1.9 million. On the other hand, the Mobile Suit Gundam movie trilogy, the so-called First Gundam, couldn’t win against Yamato until the end. That means Yamato has a bigger pie. Considering how Gundam UC sold nearly 2 million units, we’re left thinking, “Was 2199 selling 500,000 not enough? Isn’t there some way to grow that number?”

Interviewer: When I think about the numbers you quoted for Farewell, the possible pie should be huge. In terms of the story you just mentioned about the Gundam trilogy not beating Yamato, I’d like to ask how you handled it in those days. Did Yamato often become a topic of conversation?

Fukui: It may differ from generation to generation, but around me the impression was “they came in turn.” Judging from numbers, there were certainly times when they were both running together. Yamato was the first kid’s boom, and when Gundam came along, Yamato had cleanly finished. It was really a feeling of shifting from one to the next.

Interviewer: So rather than fighting over “Yamato,” “No, Gundam,” one took over from the other in the view of the children.

Fukui: That’s right. Rather than a debate over “which is better?” it was a feeling of, “is this the next one?” I think my generation is at the upper limit for Gundam. The Gundam boom began when I was in fifth or sixth grade, but I don’t think I got on until I was in junior high. Even if elementary school children and junior high children differ by only one year, it’s a different consciousness. In contrast, since Kinnikuman hit when I was in middle school, my thoughts on that were, “No way am I going with this.”

Interviewer: It was a delicate time, wasn’t it?

Fukui: Gundam grazed me at that delicate time, so I held onto it. (Laughs) Among the people one year older than me, the “people who haven’t seen Gundam” started to increase. To the contrary, they graduated with Yamato and were done.

Interviewer: “Graduated?”

Fukui: There was a sense that people of a certain age in those days said, “no robots.” Those who were the core fans of Yamato graduated cleanly, and to them Gundam was clearly a robot anime, so they even stopped watching anime.

Interviewer: Ah, I see.

Fukui: After Yamato, the anime those people saw were works from Studio Ghibli, and when I hear “it seems Totoro has entered the Top 10 in Kinema Junpo [movie magazine], I think “Eh?” It must be that generation that saw it. Those graduating now likely haven’t seen Final Yamato and the like, since it was released in 1983.

Interviewer: I suppose that’s how it is.

Fukui: In other words, there are a lot of dormant layers that stopped at Farewell. When those people entered the frivolous era of 1980 they cried “It shouldn’t be like this” because they’re the ones who shed tears over this work that was driven in as the last wedge, and of course they should be looking for a story worth biting into. But they’re different from the next generation down, which frequently uses PCs, and it’s quite difficult to penetrate that layer to let them know this work exists. The powder was lightly sprinkled by 2199, so hopefully that reached them a bit.

Interviewer: If you compare Your Name with Farewell as you did, you could see middle-aged people saying, “I came to see it because it’s been a hot topic.”

Fukui: There are also people who go to see something if such an uproar appears. They’re the ones who went to see Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli works when they were coming out on a regular basis. They have no resistance to seeing anime in a movie theater, and I think Yamato was the starting point of that. When they were teenagers, they were categorized by the word “young” and one of their enthusiasms was Yamato.

Interviewer: When I hear such a story, I feel the weight of the term Soldiers of Love.

Fukui: That’s right, it’s completely different. However, it’s also true that some people regard Farewell as a betrayal of the first Yamato, and it’s their opinion that, “Though it’s so often said that ‘love is important’ isn’t it a contradiction to end with turning life into a weapon and committing suicide?” That opinion is out there, too. But when you take a look at such a prejudice, Farewell tried to depict bigger things, and I’m planning to aim firmly at that as well.

Interviewer: People whose reaction was rejection will also want to have a glance this time, too.

Fukui: The “young” from that time are now in their mid-50s, and soon retirement will come into view. They don’t know whether they will get a pension. There’s this phrase, “The Quite While You’re Ahead Generation,” and I think they who are quitting while ahead are doing so right before the eyes of the “Yamato Generation” immediately behind them. Perhaps 2202 is liberating itself of that by being about how the future isn’t at all what you thought it’d be, and how to recover from that.

So the story’s becoming about how, having freed yourself, while the path ahead will be hard, there is meaning in overcoming that hardship. I think that’s why the story will resonate with the Yamato Generation. At the same time, I think it will also resonate with those in their teens and 20s, who feel like they can only prepare for a gloomy future in which the trend toward an aging population shows no sign of stopping.

Interviewer: When I hear it put that way, I feel like the timing of this production is just right. From Your Name to Shape of the Voice to In This Corner of the World and Gantz:O (even though it’s CG) there are many anime movie works that will be talked about in a coming wave.

Fukui: I didn’t expect that to be the situation when I was working on it. (Laughs) It may be said that a wave is coming to see anime.

Interviewer: 2199 was a remake of Space Battleship Yamato, and the sequel 2202 is based on Farewell and Yamato 2. Can it also be called a remake?

Fukui: A remake is a remake to the end. However, there is no guarantee that it will follow the same route and reach the same conclusion. Since we’re making it to be read and understood in a modern style with the thought of how people at the time felt about it, people who were touched by Farewell won’t think, “This is nostalgic” so much as, “I’m experiencing it all over again.”

Interviewer: It’s a fresh thing.

Fukui: It’s fresh, and at the same time I’d like you to reconfirm, “Did that make me cry back then?” I feel like I’m just saying that it has the scent of something old. (Laughs) But for those who saw Farewell, I think the main difference is that they’re now in their 40s and 50s and have a family. If you have a family, you wouldn’t think about a suicide attack in Farewell as something easy. When you’re in a situation where lives other than yours are important to you, what would a person do when put in a situation like that in Farewell?

At the time, there was a structure to it of how, as a young person, there was something unpleasant about joining adult society, and you could weep for these pure youths who said “no” to that by charging in for a suicide attack. But now those people have become adults. When you think about what will be left behind when you’re gone, it’s not so easy to just say “no” and go into a crash. From that perspective, people are interested in how much they can resist, and only when you see the situation from the adult side combined with the child’s side, the meaning of having seen Farewell in those days may be completed. I intend to make it that way.

Interviewer: You also said, “I wouldn’t make something without hope in this age.”

Fukui: I’m also concerned with the part that captures life in the present, whether pessimistic or optimistic, and after looking at each, I think it’s possible to regard one’s life a little more objectively.

Interviewer: I see. From the “solid” people who look forward to this to those who are newly entering the world of Yamato to those in the Yamato generation who might have gotten away from anime, it’s a work many will want to see.

Fukui: Please see it even if you think you’re being tricked. (Laughs)

Interviewer: Thank you for all your stories today!

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