Kazutaka Miyatake interview, January 2017

Kazutaka Miyatake is a man of few words, but his pen speaks volumes. As the primary mecha designer of Series 1 and Farewell to Yamato, his work has dazzled us and set an industry standard for over 40 years. In all that time, interviews have been very rare; here’s one from Showa 40 Man magazine (Crete Publishing, January 2017) in which he reveals much, including the design genesis of the Comet Empire itself.

Supporting the Worldview of Space Battleship Yamato

The truth of the mecha concepts that overturned the sensibility of anime

As a pioneer of full-scale SF anime, Space Battleship Yamato was also a pioneering work in the challenge of depicting precise mecha. However, there was a road of hardship that the creators could not imagine. We spoke with Kazutaka Miyatake, a master of mecha design, about that time.

Text: Kenji Adachi
Composition: Takafumi Kato

“Yoshinobu Nishizaki called from Office Academy to say ‘I’m going to do a new project.’ It wasn’t called Yamato at that point, it had the working title of Asteroid Six. Mr. Nishizaki was already aiming for something high-quality at that time. Anyway, he wanted to do a story about traveling 100,000 light years from Earth using warp and bringing back something important to save the Earth. But the space ship they depicted didn’t use Yamato as its motif. I only saw Nagato.”

Kazutaka Miyatake, the genius of the anime world who worked on the mecha design for Yamato unexpectedly started talking about an early stage of the planning. Battleship Nagato was the Japanese navy’s strongest battleship before Yamato was completed, called one of the “Big Seven” warships of the world. However, Miyatake and others at Studio Nue felt the focus should be shifted.

“The talk was that Yamato was greater than Nagato. In the next meeting, we said to Mr. Nishizaki, ‘We’re calling it Space Battleship Yamato between ourselves’ and he said, ‘That’s good!’”

This was a secret story about the naming of Space Battleship Yamato. The biggest and strongest battleship in world history may have become suitable as the face of a new action-adventure drama.

The unprecedented work of raising a battleship in anime

At that time, the fledgling Studio Nue was getting attention for mecha design on one robot anime after another, and it was probably inevitable that they would hear from Nishizaki. However, he was seeking a talented staff to entrust with the key visual of Yamato, and Miyatake refrained, saying “There’s no way I can fit in there.” However, most of Yamato’s mecha concepts are said to be the work of Miyatake and others at Studio Nue.

The work of arranging the shape of Yamato’s hull and bridge portion was handled by Mr. Miyatake. But it is said that even he shrank at first from the unprecedented work of dropping the image of a battleship into anime.

“I didn’t think the complex modeling of the battleship Yamato could become anime even if I drew it. Compared with previous robot anime, the level of complexity is exponentially different. It was hard enough to just show it as a battleship, so I didn’t think it was possible because it would be moving.”

The production of TV anime must be turned over every week, and it is a work site where you are forced into a war against time. Cels of mecha or other art could only be drawn by hand, one by one, and it would take more time if you ran into an elaborate design, which placed a burden on the schedule and made it difficult for animators. Miyatake knew this well based on his past experience, and thought about how to simplify it in his sketches. However, Nishizaki was not going to permit this.

“He’d say, ‘That’s not a battleship. Look at Yamato’s renovations just before it was sunk. It won’t look like Yamato if it doesn’t have a huge lump of anti-aircraft guns’.”

Elite animators were called to the scene to respond to this high demand; Noboru Ishiguro, Toyoo Ashida, and others who had shown their capability at Mushi Pro, to which Nishizaki once belonged.

“I asked Mr. Ishiguro, ‘are you okay with this?’ And he said, ‘With Mr. Ashida doing animation, I can manage it.’ The site of Yamato was said to be hell, and it was more fierce than any other job, but I survived it with both of them.”

It was Osamu Tezuka who led Mushi Pro, a man who knew the severity of weekly manga deadlines down to his marrow. Nishizaki had distinguished himself there, so it may have been natural in a way for him to place high demands on both the quality and the schedule of an anime. It could be said that the the success or failure of Yamato rode on the elite who had passed through the gauntlet of Mushi Pro.

Under this reassuring strength, Miyatake began to visualize Yamato as Nishizaki requested.

“I didn’t have time to draw more than the front of Yamato, so I asked Naoyuki Katoh, another illustrator at Studio Nue, to draw the rear. As a result, the front and rear didn’t connect line for line, which became a considerable problem when it was turned over to the animation production department. Therefore, it should never have been shown in a series of images that moved from front to back.”

The interior was full of meters in the formidable art designs

On the other hand, it is said that the interiors of Yamato were terrifying.

“There were meters everywhere. I did a lot of drawing for those images. It was the same on Gamilas as on Yamato, pictures of meters with depth everywhere. Just drawing one meter is a serious burden for artists, but this was continuous. The number started to decrease around Episode 5. At the beginning there were five windows on the bridge, and they gradually decreased. I didn’t compromise on the detail of the design image, but since anime consists of consecutive images, it was inevitable that there would be differences.”

Those of us who watched it on TV simply thought, “Is this the sense of the future?” but behind this there was hardship beyond imagining.

Nishizaki always had in mind high-quality anime that would overturn past sensibilities. To realize this idea, it was said that even the aforementioned animators (and others) had to spit blood. However, as a result, an unprecedented historical anime was born.

“Because Nishizaki was able to gather those staff members and spend the money to let me draw those pictures, I managed to do it. Without Nishizaki, it would not have been born.”

The starting point of Miyatake designs was to question 2001

Miyatake’s entrance into mecha design was an encounter with a certain movie.

“There was a picture from 2001: A Space Odyssey painted by Robert McCall of the Orion shuttle launching from Station 5. I fell in love with that one picture and went to see the movie and my tears flowed. I was in the presence of something great. But on the other hand, questions sprang up. This was not scientific at all. At the time, my idea of SF was that it had to be scientifically accurate. For example, the Discovery in 2001 doesn’t have a heat sink [a plate to radiate internal heat]. The explanation was that it was powered by a small fusion reactor. The heat sink should have been glowing red while in flight, and it was strange that there wasn’t one anywhere. Actually, when I read the original story by Arthur C. Clarke, there was a properly-written scene with a glowing heat sink. So what was the gap?”

“I got caught up in collecting materials in those days, and I drew a three-sided orthographic view of the Discovery by hand. Before long, I found a document showing a design of Discovery with a heat sink from the planning stage. That’s when I understood the meaning of ‘worldview.’ That’s what it meant. It wasn’t out of the question to have a winged ship in SF, and if you put a huge radiator on it like the novel version, it could be misinterpreted as a wing. That misunderstanding could ruin the worldview of this work, so they took it off. It was Kubrick’s judgment and Clarke was OK with it, too.”

There’s no word for Miyatake’s tenacity.

“This showed me that the work has its own worldview. If I tried to do it without capturing the worldview, the science would just become cumbersome. Whether it’s real or not isn’t a big problem. What’s important is reality, and that’s what I got from my analysis of 2001.”

The keyword of “worldview” that he arrived at then formed the basis of Miyatake’s mecha design afterward. Incidentally, the three-sided orthographic view of Discovery he drew in this process developed into the sectional illustrations that appeared in the end title of Mazinger Z (Fuji TV). It became an effective weapon in Miyatake’s later work.

SF plays a role that goes beyond everyday life

Since then, Miyatake has fascinated us with countless works, and he invoked a topical work as he told an interesting story about the transcendence that can be found in depictions of SF.

“A special trait of SF is its ability to transcend the line between the living and the mechanical. The movie Your Name, for example. Its structure is SF. Even though there’s no SF technology, there is an exchange of consciousness. To solve that, there is a part that has to exceed the minimum and go beyond the limits. This can only be SF. It’s a trivial thing, but I think it’s a good point of SF that it can surpass everything else with a profound flavor. If you want to call that cool, then it is. If you want to call it beautiful, then it’s beautiful. It was beautiful when Your Name crossed that line.”

The reason such a work becomes a hit, getting not just the younger generation but also the middle-age and older generations alike to shed tears, becomes clearer by placing the filter of SF onto it.

“In order to enlarge the world, I think SF has the role of providing a stepping-off point to creation.”

It can be said that one of its pioneers is Yamato. At the work site, they pushed all their power to the limit under harsh conditions, paving the way for the SF that goes on today.


Battleship Andromeda: Miyatake’s design masterpiece

Andromeda, the newest battleship in Farewell to Yamato, is known as Kazutaka Miyatake’s masterpiece. The concept was to use straight lines to differentiate it from Yamato, which is made up of “antiquated” curves. The double Wave-Motion Guns imply a doubling of strength. But he said that when he couldn’t decide on the design of the bridge, he asked “that person” for help.

“He looked at it for five minutes and wrapped a structure around a square box like the antennas I had drawn. He drew three lines and put in three slits and said, ‘Yes, it’s done.’ I felt the height of a professional’s ability.” (Miyatake)

(Translator’s note: “that person” is not revealed in the text, but is probably Leiji Matsumoto.)

Is the chrysanthemum crest the ultimate weapon? A Wave-Motion Gun anecdote

The Wave-Motion Gun, which can be called the face of Yamato, was born from an unexpected discussion.

“Mr. Nishizaki said to put a chrysanthemum crest on that part of the bow. I disagreed, saying that if you do such a thing it will be seen as militaristic.” (Miyatake)

This became a dilemma for Miyatake and Kenichi Matsuzaki of Studio Nue, so they drew a large muzzle where the crest was to go.

“When I explained it to Mr. Nishizaki, I said look, don’t you see the chrysanthemum crest? And he said, ‘Oh, let’s go with this’.”

Since there was a plan to give Yamato some kind of ultimate weapon, this one idea solved three problems at once.

The surprising depiction of mecha in Farewell to Yamato

There were many bold things in the mecha design that appeared in Farewell to Yamato. In addition to the Battleship Andromeda, the enemy carriers and upper half of the White Comet Empire city had flashy gimmicks.

“The key designs, such as Andromeda and the Gatlantis aircraft carrier, needed Nishizaki’s OK. I got the idea for the Comet City from the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It was like, ‘I’ll do that!’ and I had absolute confidence there.” (Miyatake)

1. Inside the bridge of the large Gatlantis aircraft carrier. A screen much larger than that of the Earth fleet creates an impression of great scientific power. [Translator’s note: the still used here was chosen in error; it actually shows EDF headquarters.]

2. Miyatake generally used an insect motif for the Gatlantis fleet. You can see something like an insect’s eyes on the sides of the aircraft carrier.

3. The design of the imperial city that appeared after the camouflage of the Comet Empire gets removed is one of the masterpieces. It is not a case of claiming whether there is an up or down in space.

4. Miyatake explains that the design of a carrier-based plane depends on a sense of art. “An airplane is just fine as an airplane. There is no need to make it into a bad space fighter.”

5. Contrasted against the pale green base of the Gatlantis ships, the metallic blue of Dessler’s ship stands out. The pride of Gamilas is conveyed even though it’s in enemy hands.

Fightercraft design

In the original SF context, it may seem strange that a small aircraft that goes into space would have an airplane shape, but this shape is the normal evolution in the Yamato worldview, which aims for dramatic SF. The fightercraft in Yamato 2199 follows that tradition, taking on that worldview and rebuilding it with modern sensibilities. The design of the fuselage was further refined and small gimmicks were built into the launch sequence from the ship. Cockpit instruments have digital notations with voice guidance.

The Cosmo Zero piloted by Susumu Kodai launches from the rear of Yamato on a catapult. It has a large diameter machine gun and four standard guns. There is a second unit piloted by Akira Yamamoto.

The Cosmo Falcon is a general-purpose aircraft of the UN Space navy, the equivalent of the original Black Tiger. The shape of the wing gives the strong impression of a present-day fighter.

Find other interviews with Mr. Miyatake here:

Playstation interview, January 2001

Yamatalk Night, September 2013

Bonus news

Kazutaka Miyatake: Mega Designer Created Mega Structures

Hobby Japan, April 28

Several books have collected Miyatake’s art over the years, and this 113 page tome serves as an overview from 1972 to 2016. Only a few pieces (designs, sketches, and color paintings) are shown to represent his most prominent works since a full catalog would require several volumes, but this is a great place to get a broad view of his career. Yamato is represented by a single color painting done for Yamato Fact File in 2010.

Order this book from Amazon Japan here.

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