Viva Variety! Yamato Video, 1984-2011

The advent of home video made a lot of things possible in the world of Japanese animation that weren’t there before. Stores could now set themselves up as rental libraries. TV shows that had already recovered their production costs from sponsors and merchandising could now themselves be sold as a product. New stories could be produced expressly for this new format, giving us the OAV (Original Anime Video) boom of the 1980s.

Yamato played as big a role in the home video revolution as it did in the anime revolution, showing what was possible and sparking an enormous appetite for more. And as soon as Yoshinobu Nishizaki finished making Yamato movies in 1983, he shifted gears and got started on Yamato videos. Here are the results…

MV series ad; click to enlarge.

MV Series: The Music Videos
Nippon Columbia, 1984 & ’85

Hiroshi Miyagawa’s amazing musical scores were a huge part of Yamato‘s success, and before the saga could be watched on demand, listening to a soundtrack album was the most vivid way of reliving the experience. Naturally, this made them into huge sellers and provided yet another way to expand the Yamato video library when the time came. One by one, Nishizaki supervised the conversion of each Yamato movie into a Music Video, removing dialogue and sound effects from key scenes and creating extended montages that could be paired with an appropriate score. The result was a symphonic music video that could be played like an album.

The scores were a mix of actual soundtrack music as heard in the anime and symphonic arrangements as heard on LP records. Sometimes entire animated sequences played end-to-end, other times they were edited and spliced with others. The opportunity was also taken to enhance older footage with new effects, such as the misty “Scanimation” developed for Be Forever and used extensively in Final Yamato.

Space Battleship Yamato volume, July 1984

After their initial release, the MVs were extremely rare and virtually unknown outside Japan since they were never exported. Even in their time they didn’t get much publicity and only received heavy advertising in the Yamato Fan Club magazines. Thus, the only lasting record of their production is an interview published in issue #40, which is presented right here:

This is the MV that everybody’s been talking about.

We interview Visual Director Kazunori Tanahashi

Translated by Earnest Migaki, edited by Tim Eldred

The Yamato MV, which has stirred up people’s feelings with a new format, has made news not only in the anime world, but also in the music and video industries as well. Let’s take a look at how they made this new version of the Yamato Sound.

Combining the Drama and Music together…

If you’re a Yamato fan, then you should know who Kazunori Tanahashi is. He was the Assistant Director for the entire Yamato saga, from Series 1 to the movies. He and Sound Director Atsumi Tashiro created the Yamato MV, and we went to their studio to get an interview.

Farewell to Yamato volume, August 1984

Q: The MVs are currently for Series 1, Farewell, Be Forever, and Final. Four movies?

Tanahashi: And also for The New Voyage. If you look at the composition, you’ll note that the music is made first, then the images are edited to the score. We’re pretty much free to do what we want, but we can’t get too carried away, of course.

Q: So it must be difficult creating these.

T: Well, the drama is fairly straightforward, right? That’s why selecting the music was so difficult. Each MV is a digest version of the story.

Q: You can’t toss out the music or the drama. Yamato definitely has some great music, of course.

T: With regard to early animation history, the music took precedent and there wasn’t usually much of a story. The images needed to be only amusing scenes and repeated gags. But when it came to TV, drama became more important. Before Yamato, the only one with a decent musical score was Jungle Emperor. [Kimba]

Q: So Yamato could be called an epoch-making anime, right?

T: Yes. Even the current MV owes its success to the high quality of the music it’s based on. No other anime comes even close.

New Voyage volume, March 1985

Q: What was the most difficult part of the project?

T: Yamato is a story-intensive production. Selecting the music and then finding the right scene was no problem. However, their lengths never quite matched up. Because the imagery takes precedent, finding the right length of music was the main problem.

Q: Was there anything special done with the visuals?

T: For Be Forever and New Voyage, we conceived a unification of colors. However, since the enemy already had common features, it really wasn’t so hard matching things up.

Q: Unifying the colors or reversing the images—those are part of the video technique?

T: Yes. We can do quite a lot with it. It just takes lots of time and money, that’s all (laughs). We were able to unify the differing colors by manipulating the video.

Q: Can you give us an example of such a scene?

T: We changed the warp scene of Aquarius a bit. We wanted to show the hugeness of that scene. Then there are the explosion scenes. We converted the explosion images to black and white, then we brought out the areas that were lit up. Then we matched up the original color image, and this gave us a very nice effect. There are other areas that we edited extensively as well. The launch scene from Farewell is an example of this.

Final Yamato volume, June 1984

Q: How long did it take you to finish one MV?

T: Part 1 took a considerable amount of time. One track took us at least 10 hours. Another track we had to redo five times. Since we had 16 musical tracks in all, you can imagine how long it must have taken (laughs). As Part 1 focused on the TV series, and there was the unification of colors, it was quite a challenge to complete it.

Q: Were there other productions after that?

T: Final Yamato was designed for a slower pace, and I believe we succeeded in that. Farewell was drama-centric, I think it’s fairly interesting, too.

(End of interview)

The entire MV lineup on VHS. The Be Forever volume was not released on LD. Read about the Yamato 2199 MV here.

The Yamato Grand Symphony, 1985

Many a concert was held during the Yamato production years with fans turning out in droves to watch Hiroshi Miyagawa wave the wand and bring the spirit to life before their very eyes. Each event was a huge success, but throughout that time Yoshinobu Nishizaki (whose had produced live music performances long before he ever got into anime) was nurturing something else: a classic orchestral concert in the grand tradition. That dream came true on May 4, 1984, when The Yamato Grand Symphony was performed at Tokyo’s Postal Life Insurance Hall by the NHK Symphony Orchestra.

First Laserdisc and VHS release, June 1985 (Nippon Columbia).
Below: the same product with alternate labeling for direct sale by Nishizaki’s West Cape/Jupiter Films.

Released the following year on LP, CD and home video, the hour-long event was quite a different listening experience than a Yamato soundtrack album or even a symphonic suite. Kentaro Haneda, who had been Miyagawa’s right-hand man since Be Forever, substantially rearranged several Yamato scores into classical form in four movements.

Interviewed at the time for the Yamato Fan Club magazine, Nishizaki glowed with pride and described a pivotal point in his childhood when he first heard classical music and fell instantly in love with it, memorizing every note of Swan Lake and entering a new world of thoughts and emotions. (This emphasis on music would later become a driving force throughout Yamato production.) Propelled by the vivid memory of attending his first symphonic concert, he wanted to create a new opportunity for everyone to share that experience, and considered the NHK orchestra the best in the world to recreate it.

“I think the reason many people consider symphonic music old and call it an antique is because they aren’t familiar with it,” he said. “But everyone knows the Yamato sound, and when they hear the melody in a symphonic form, they can enjoy the splendor of a world-class orchestra.”

September 1993 re-release on Laserdisc (Emotion) and June 2005 DVD (Columbia)

Fans were able to enjoy this one many times, thanks to repeated releases as an album and a video. It was released in all formats simultaneously in June 1985, and was one of the first three Yamato CD’s, matched up with Miyagawa’s best-loved symphonic suites. It was revived as part of Emotion’s 1993 LD lineup and became the first non-anime Yamato production to be released on DVD, 20 years after its debut.

See clips of the Grand Symphony right now on YouTube!

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Yamato the Mirror of My Eternal Memory: The Quickening

Emotion Laserdisc and VHS tape, 1994

This made-for-home-video program with the unwieldy title was a dream come true for many fans: a comprehensive documentary about the Yamato production years. Clocking in at a generous 108 minutes, it included interviews with key staff members, footage of famous events such as the Be Forever cruise, and teased the new projects that were fast approaching as of The Quickening’s release in February, 1994

Several minutes are devoted to Yamato 2520, showing early test footage and staff meetings, and also to Yamato Resurrection. This footage was all anyone saw of that project until it was finally revived in 2008.

Yamato 2520

Emotion Laserdiscs and VHS tapes, 1994-96

Destined to be the Yamato anime to live in infamy, 2520 began with the grand scheme to make seven hour-long episodes to be released only on home video. Financial and production problems plagued the series from the start, so a making-of documentary titled Volume 0: 100 Year War in the Milky Way was assembled to get something out in the promised year of 1994. The next release wasn’t animated at all, but was instead a 20-minute music video by pop group Tokio, shown below right (Sony Entertainment, January 1995). Volume 1 (Hope for Tomorrow) finally arrived in March ’95 and trumpeted the intended release of all 7 volumes, but by the time volume 2 (Yamato Begins) came out in December, only volume 3 (Combat) was still being promoted. Another eight months went by before it appeared, by which time the writing was most definitely on the wall and Yoshinobu Nishizaki’s West Cape Corporation was sadly headed for bankruptcy.

Though it had little to do with Space Battleship Yamato, 2520 demonstrated high production values and might well have had a better fate had it not tried to invoke its predecessor. Read the full story of Yamato 2520 and its product line here.

Playstation Videos from Bandai, 2000-05

Yamato conquered a whole new generation when it arrived as a strategy game for Sony Playstation in 1999 and launched a mini-franchise that lasted until the final game appeared in 2005, a heavily modified version of Be Forever Yamato. What excited fans the most about these games were their beautifully animated cutscenes, a blend of CG and highly stylized character animation that recreated key scenes from the anime. Naturally, many fans wanted to see the animation without having to struggle through the game to get to it, and Bandai obliged by releasing some of it on video.

The Farewell to Yamato Deluxe Pack (above left) was a box set containing the second game, some interesting trinkets such as a handkerchief and a captain’s notebook, and a VHS tape of all the cutscenes from the PS version of Farewell. Two subsequent DVDs were released from Bandai. The third game, Reminiscence of Iscandar, was based on The New Voyage, and fans who pre-ordered it in October 2004 could obtain a DVD (above center) with the same title. It contained all the cutscenes from the very first game, which was based on TV Series 1, and a short promo for the New Voyage game. Total running time was 60 minutes. The fourth and fifth games, which added up to Be Forever, both came out in 2005 with a similar deal; for a limited time fans could send in for the 2nd cutscene DVD (above right) that contained the animation from Farewell and TV commercials for all the subsequent games. Running time for this one was 50 minutes. No further Playstation releases have appeared, so the only way to view the New Voyage and Be Forever cutscenes is on the games themselves.

Read all about the Playstation games here.

The Making of an Anime Legend

Voyager Entertainment Inc. DVD, 2005

The next release would be a one-of-a-kind, made-in-America documentary of the entire Yamato/Star Blazers phenomenon. Similar to The Quickening, it explores the Yamato production years in greater detail with a running time of 1 hour, 45 minutes. It includes numerous bonus features, such as TV commercials, opening and ending titles, subtitled movie trailers, and the original Yamato pilot film with subtitles.

Read about the making of this documentary here.

CR Space Battleship Yamato
Pachinko Game DVD, Fuji, 2007

This promotional DVD was released with Fuji’s first Yamato pachinko game in November 2007. A handful of products accompanied its debut, including this 9-minute look at the design and function of the game.

Read all about the game here.

CR Yamato 2 Promotional DVD, February 2009

Fuji’s second Yamato pachinko game proved to be an outstanding animation showcase with the best CG seen in the saga up to that time. The DVD contained 17 minutes of promo videos and TV commercials.

Read all about the game here.

Yamato Resurrection Promotional DVD, June 2009

A 9-minute segment of movie footage had its worldwide premiere at Yamato Party in early May 2009, and over the following weeks it was offered to fans via the short-lived official website of Yamato Studio (which gave way to the much more robust “Yamato Crew” site in the fall, so it was no great loss). The disc was labeled “part 1” but there was no follow-up. Read about it here and see the footage on YouTube here.

Movie Reissues, November 2009

Just prior to the premiere of Yamato Resurrection, Emotion (the video arm of Bandai) reissued all five Yamato movies on DVD at a new lower price and with wide distribution to convenience stores and specialty shops all over Japan.

CR Yamato 3 Promotional DVD, January 2010

Fuji’s third game built on the success of the first two, bringing the same high-quality CG animation to The Bolar Wars with spectacular results. The DVD contained 12 minutes of footage that can be seen here: Part 1 | Part 2

Read all about the game here.

Yamato Pachislo Game Promotional DVD, February 2010

Yet another pachinko game based on Series 1 made its debut in 2010 from the Yamasa company. The CG mecha animation was not as refined as Fuji’s efforts, but the character animation was very appealing and energetic. The DVD contained 12 minutes of footage, which can be seen on YouTube here:

CG opening title | Game features Part 1 | Game features Part 2

Read all about the game here.

Yamato Resurrection DVDs, Bandai/Emotion, July 2010

As the June 4 release date approached for Yamato Resurrection on home video, posters like the one shown above left began to appear in stores. The plan shifted in early May when Bandai Visual decided instead to release a rental-only version on that date, and pushed the others back to July 23. Box art for the rental version is shown above right.

For the sale versions, fresh new box art was created showing Yamato under construction in the Aquarius asteroid, and the release would mark Yamato‘s debut on two new formats: BluRay Disc and UMD. The bonus features include a collection of staff interviews. Click here to read a detailed product review.

50th Anniversary Commemoration: Isao Sasaki TV Theme Song Collection
DVD, Columbia, December 2010

Isao Sasaki has been belting out manly tunes for over 50 years now, and has been singing TV themes since 1973. This outstanding DVD contains no less 51 of his best-known opening and closing titles, adding up to 63 minutes of non-stop manliness. His opening and closing themes for Yamato are included (from all three TV series) along with countless others–along with an even dozen OP and ED titles from live-action sentai ranger shows.

A 20-page insert book contains all the lyrics for karaoke purposes.

Live-action Yamato movie DVD & Blu-ray, TC Entertainment, June 2011

Six long months of anticipation finally exploded when fans outside Japan got the opportunity to see the live-action movie for the first time on home video. There were three separate editions to appease casual and psycho-fans alike, all of which are reviewed in detail here. International editions began to appear at a steady pace in following months, and one with English subtitles finally became available from Australia’s Madman Entertainment in December. See their ordering information here.

Watch this page for future updates!

The End

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