Leave it to the Prose
The bewildering world of Yamato novelizations

Any devoted anime fan with some cash to spend can easily bury themselves in all manner of spinoff products from music to manga to models to magazines and more. But one form of merchandising is still practically off the radar of English-only fans: the anime novelization. These exist in great abundance for every popular series (and even less popular ones) and based on scattered reports they are generally pretty enlightening, just as a novelization of a movie has ample room to express ideas that can’t be captured on film or drawn by an animator.

Naturally, there were novelizations for each Yamato production. In fact, thanks to what must have been some very slick dealmaking on the part of Yoshinobu Nishizaki, there were multiple novelizations in multiple formats. The Quest for Iscandar story alone had been published in prose form no less than 11 times, making it the easy record holder. (For those keeping score, Farewell to Yamato came in second place with 7 tellings. Series 2 was the basement dweller with a mere 2 novelizations.)

The bulk of these came from two of Japan’s biggest publishing houses, Shueisha and Asahi Sonorama, both of whom had gotten major mileage out of Yamato in many other forms. Though hard evidence has yet to surface, it’s likely that these two giants were placed in competition with each other by licensing deals that were too attractive to pass up. If this was indeed the case, it explains much about the volume and variety of publications that filled the Yamato production years. One publisher with exclusive rights might not have tried very hard. Two or more publishers in competition would be forced to innovate.

On the other hand, that logic falls a little short as an explanation for the multiple Yamato novels. Limited to the simple categories of hardcover and paperback, they didn’t exhibit the same degree of variation seen in other areas of publishing. The answer probably lies behind the same language barrier that repels many English-speakers. The answer is probably within the prose itself.

Two issues each of 4th Grader and 5th Grader published by Shogakukan in the 1970s

Historically speaking, Yamato novels actually got their start as novellas the very same month the first TV series made its debut (October 1974). Shogakukan was the first publisher to break this ground in the pages of its monthly childrens’ fiction magazines titled 4th Grader, 5th Grader and (you guessed it) 6th Grader. Filled with comics and stories tailored to those specific reading levels, the magazines were prized as a tool to build awareness with the show’s target audience. (Just to help put these magazines on the map, they were also the springboards for such megahits as Doraemon and Detective Conan. Think of them as Japan’s equivalent to Garfield and Harry Potter and you won’t be far off.)

6th Grader kept up with the series in the form of a monthly episode guide using stills from the show, but the material created for 4th and 5th Grader was entirely new. Keisuke Fujikawa, Yamato‘s head scriptwriter, rewrote the story in short prose installments tailored for each magazine, and a different artist was hired to provide accompanying illustrations. This montage format was simply known as a “picture story.”

The artist for 4th Grader was Toshinari Ikehara, who had drawn manga serials for the magazine including Thunder Mask and Little Witch Meg. His art strongly resembled the Yamato manga of Akira Hio, which had not yet been published but was conceivably made available as reference along with animator’s model sheets. Limited to 2-4 pages an issue over six months, the story definitely required abridgement, but Ikehara produced a fine, elegant rendition of the characters within that brief stretch.

The artist for 5th Grader was a different sort of pen-and-ink wizard altogether: the one and only Leiji Matsumoto. Somehow finding the time between his production duties on the TV series and the creation of his manga for Akita Shoten’s Adventure King magazine, he lavishly illustrated each of Fujikawa’s text installments in a style that was purposefully “aged down” so that the characters might have more appeal to the young readers.

Matsumoto kept this up all the way through the life of the TV series, totaling 27 pages over 6 months. Though it was a truly unique part of Yamato history, this adaptation was largely forgotten until 1999, when it was reprinted in a book from Media Factory titled This is Manga (shown at right). The author obtained 5th Grader magazines from Matsumoto himself and took great pains to reproduce them from imperfectly printed pages. In a sidebar he talked of visiting a Shogakukan print shop for consultation and witnessing a busy plant that reminded him of Yamato‘s engine room. In the end, the artwork could be saved but all the text had to be replaced.

Click here to see all 27 pages of this unique retelling of Yamato along with a Leiji Matsumoto interview.

The first pure novelization appeared about three months after the TV series began, and it couldn’t have been more different from the children’s version. It was a hardcover from Asahi Sonorama titled Space Battleship Yamato: the Fall of Earth, followed a few weeks later by a second book called The Revival of Earth. Together, they told the story of the TV series, but in a way that would later become almost unrecognizable.

The author, Arashi Isuzu, was a member of the Mystery Writers of Japan, and brought a very dark sensibility to the adaptation. The effects of the war with Gamilas were much more pronounced, and the characters were all nursing wounds, both physical and emotional. There was far less warmth and heroism in this version, not to mention a third galactic power called the Bolzon that eventually brokered peace between Earth and Gamilas. A more detailed description of the story can be found in the links below.

Both books were collected into a Sonorama “SF” paperback in November 1975 which preserved its black and white illustrations, none of which looked much like the anime they were ostensibly based on. Instead they were a throwback to a much more traditional era of paperback illustration and an interesting overlap with aesthetics that Yamato was destined to overturn. Aritsune Toyota, a member of the staff that developed the series for TV, was credited for the original story. Whether or not that was an early draft of the anime series is an unanswered question.

If Yamato had ended there, its treatment as a novel would have been pretty bleak. Fortunately, it was only the beginning. As the publisher of the Akira Hio manga, Sonorama had benefited from increasingly popular TV reruns of the first series, and when the movie finally loomed up in the summer of 1977, they rushed a trilogy of hardcover novels into print just in time to catch the rising tide.

Not privy to the editing choices of the movie, Sonorama’s new adaptation instead covered the TV series from front to back, augmenting it with a generous helping of color and black & white stills. The colorful dustjackets matched the colorful movie posters and were as good a signal as any that a corner had been turned. Yamato was here to stay in EVERY format. Even some that hadn’t been invented yet.

One year later, all hell broke loose. Farewell to Yamato pushed everything into the stratosphere with the biggest opening in Japanese cinema history and Sonorama’s rival Shueisha stepped forward to stake out its own turf. Within the space of one month (August 15-September 15), Shueisha published five Farewell novels in three different formats and Sonorama barely edged in with a 2-volume hardcover set.

Newspaper ad for Sonorama products, 1978

Shueisha then quickly made up for lost time, releasing yet another Farewell hardcover in and three Space Battleship Yamato novels in their second month. Again, Sonorama did their best to keep up with a paperback version of their 1977 trilogy that popped up at year’s end. But it was clear who had won this round, and the tone had been set for things to come.
(Below: magazine ad and giveaway sticker sheets from Shueisha, circa 1978.)

1979 was the year of The New Voyage, which saw another flurry of books from both sides during the month of September (2 from Sonorama, 3 from Shueisha) but out of nowhere came yet another take on the first Yamato story from yet another significant player: Office Academy. Yoshinobu Nishizaki personally invited author Hitomi Takagaki, a giant of children’s adventure literature, to pen his own version of Yamato. No fan of anime, Takagaki was nevertheless a major afficianado of the original battleship Yamato and jumped at the chance to revive it. The result was a one-of-a-kind “Hot Blood” hardcover novel, packaged in a slipcase and lavishly illustrated. In the end, it would stand above all others as the finest Yamato novel of them all.

Left: ad for Sonorama’s New Voyage hardcovers. Right: Office Academy’s exquisite “Hot Blood” novel with slipcase.

Shueisha and Sonorama only intensified their activity in 1980 when Be Forever‘s premiere sounded another Yamato boom that spun everything up to even more dizzying heights. Sonorama was the first to strike while this iron was hot, adding a new format to their lineup called the Yamato Complete Works. The first seven volumes stampeded into stores together on August 1, the day before Be Forever‘s release. Shueisha shot back over the following month with five Be Forever novels in three formats. Two more Complete Works volumes (Be Forever parts 1 & 2) arrived in September. Winner of this round: Sonorama.

Left to right: Ad for Sonorama’s “Complete Works” series, two ads for Shueisha’s Be Forever lineup

Things calmed a bit in 1981. The competitors fought to a draw on Yamato III (4 novels apiece) and Sonorama went back to fill out a couple of titles that had been missed in previous formats. The final shooting match began in late 1982 when Shueisha managed to get the first Final Yamato novel in stores mid-December. This was quite a feat, since the movie was still three months away, and it was quickly matched by a third player: Tokuma Shoten. As the publisher of the industry-leading Animage magazine, Tokuma had joined the party as a major licensor of Final Yamato and obtained limited rights for the release of novels and music. The name of their imprint was “AM Juju,” and their 2-part paperback adaptation included illustrations from a Yoshinori Kaneda, a key designer on the movie. (Below: an ad for Shueisha’s Final Yamato lineup from the film’s program book.)

Sonorama returned to make it a three-way tussle in early 1983 and when the dust had finally settled a month after the film opened, a total of eight Final Yamato novels brought the long battle to an end.

Looking at the grand totals, the numbers are simply staggering.

Total novels published: 61 volumes from 4 publishers:

Space Battleship Yamato: 17 volumes
Sonorama: 12, Shueisha: 4, Office Academy: 1

Farewell to Yamato: 10 volumes
Shueisha: 6, Sonorama: 4

Yamato 2: 3 volumes
Sonorama: 3

New Voyage: 8 volumes
Sonorama: 5, Shueisha: 3

Be Forever: 7 volumes
Shueisha: 5, Sonorama: 2

Yamato III: 8 volumes
Sonorama: 4, Shueisha: 4

Final Yamato: 8 volumes
Shueisha: 4, Sonorama: 2, Tokuma Shoten: 2

With so many to choose from, it can be extremely difficult to sort out which novels came from which publisher, especially since some of their formats were almost identical. Here’s a visual scorecard to aid the intrepid collector…

Novels published by Asahi Sonorama (left column)

Hardcovers (approx. 5 3/8″ X 7.5″)

Space Battleship Yamato 1974 version (2 parts), 1977 version (3 parts),
Farewell to Yamato (2 parts), New Voyage (2 parts)

The 1974 novels include black & white illustrations. All later volumes include color and black & white stills. The author of each later volume is indicated as Yoshinobu Nishizaki, but they were almost certainly ghost-written under his name.

Novels published by Shueisha (right column)

Hardcovers (approx. 6 1/8″ X 8.5″)

One volume each for Space Battleship Yamato and Farewell to Yamato. Written for children, they include many color stills. The author of both volumes is Michiru Maki.

“Complete Works” Series (softcover, approx. 5″ X 7 1/8″)

12 volumes up to and including Yamato III. Their content
is identical to the Sonorama hardcovers in the case of
crossover volumes, including the color and black & white
stills. Again, the author is indicated as Yoshinobu Nishizaki.

Monkey Library, Fanfan Library (softcover, approx. 5.25″ X 7.5″)

To maximize visibility, Shueisha made the same material available in two imprints. Other than their dustjackets, the books are identical. However, the Monkey Library stopped with Yamato III and the Fanfan Library continued to the end with Final Yamato. Only the last four Fanfan volumes are shown here. Every volume includes color and black & white stills and line art illustrations. The author of each book is Kiyoshi Miura.

“SF” novels (softcover, approx. 4 1/8″ X 5.75″)

Interior text is identical to the “Complete Works” series with
the stills reduced to a few color pages at the front. The first Space Battleship Yamato novel shown here is the 1975 edition of the earliest hardcovers, collected into a single volume with illustrations intact. The 2-part Final Yamato adaptation only exists in this format.

Cobalt Series (softcover, approx. 4 1/8″ X 6″)

The least “showy” of the Shueisha line, these slim paperbacks contain a few black & white and occasional color stills. The tradeoff was that all were written by Ken Wakasaki, considered by many Japanese fans to be the premiere Yamato novelizer. He also wrote an original SF novel titled Space Battleship Musashi, which you can read about here.

Other publishers: Space Battleship Yamato “Hot Blood” novel by Hitomi Takagaki (at left), published by Office Academy. Final Yamato “AM Juju” novels by Keigo Misaki (at right), published by Tokuma Shoten. Read all about these and find out what makes some of the other novels special by clicking on the links below.

Some of the information in these articles was translated from the book shown at right, The World of Anime Novelize by Naoto and Yoshito Sakai (published by Hiroshi Spring in July 2006). As the name implies, it examines dozens of novels based on anime productions.

Space Battleship Yamato novels
Farewell to Yamato novels
Yamato 2 novels
New Voyage novels
Be Forever novels
Yamato III novels
Final Yamato novels

The End

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