Smashing All Barriers: The history of Yamato music

1st Movement: PRELUDE

Like all the best success stories, this one is about a juggernaut that no one saw coming. It seems inevitable in retrospect, since the right people made the right decisions at the right time, but even with 20/20 hindsight it is still impossible to overstate the impact of Yamato music on the world of anime. This was the result of extraordinary talent, perserverance, and foresight. And with all things Yamato, it’s a story that begins with Producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki.

Long before he ever thought about anime, Nishizaki had a different dream altogether. From the moment he first heard Swan Lake in his childhood, his heart was lost to the classics and he decided that music would be his life’s work. His post-college years saw a steady rise through the ranks of commentator, host, promoter, and orchestral manager. (See a detailed bio here.) Office Academy today is thought of as Space Battleship Yamato‘s first production company (later renamed Westcape Corporation) but few remember that it was actually founded in 1963 to produce musical theatre.

By 1970, Office Academy had earned the attention of Osamu Tezuka himself (the single most famous name in Japanese anime and manga) who hired Nishizaki to manage and promote his television works, primarily a 1972 animated series based on his manga, Triton of the Sea. Now bitten by the anime bug, Nishizaki moved on to supervise two more series in 1973, Mountain Mouse Rocky Chuck and Wansa-kun [Little Wansa]. Music figured strongly in both, which were essentially anime musicals with an emphasis on song-and-dance sequences.

In the years before the word ‘anime’ was invented, ‘TV Manga’ music became somewhat of an industry, though ghettoized as the offshoot of a children’s medium. There was no shortage of catchy theme songs (many of which earned permanent karaoke status in later decades) and an occasional soundtrack would catch fire for a time, like Takeo Yamashita’s quirky score for the 1971 Lupin III series. But when Nishizaki began to line up the dominoes for his next animated project, he wanted a different guy to handle the music. A really different guy.

Fortunately, he was already in-house, toiling away on Wansa-kun.

2nd Movement: ENSEMBLE

From the start of his musical career, Hiroshi Miyagawa was an oddball. The first evidence of this was in his own name, the kanji for which was commonly pronounced ‘Yasushi.’ Declaring himself ‘Hiroshi’ instead announced to the rest of the world that traditions were going to be broken.

The maestro’s first known musical activity was to form his own band at the Osaka Art University. He later developed his skill as an arranger, playing piano for Shin Watanabe and the Six Joes. Plunging into the swingin’ 60s as a soloist, he became a sort of ‘foster parent’ for The Peanuts, a twin-sister singing duo who would earn international fame as the twin fairies in Toho’s first Mothra movie. Movies proved to be a goldmine for Miyagawa, providing him with ample opportunities to turn out one hit song after another. The single most popular of these was an Italian-style ballad called Una Sera de Tokyo [One Night in Tokyo]. It became a pop standard and made Miyagawa a household name. Listening to it now, one can clearly identify the melodic roots of Yamato‘s haunting end theme, The Scarlet Scarf.

Endless awards and new opportunities followed, and he became adept at arranging a wide variety of tunes very quickly for the weekly pop-music TV series The Hit Parade. Known in music circles as ‘the crazy man,’ he infused every situation with humor and mischief that belied the ferocious work ethic which took him all the way to Nishizaki’s doorstep. In 1972 Miyagawa became the composer and conductor for Office Academy’s music department (called ‘Musical Academy’) just as a new SF program was taking shape in the next room. At the time no one would have had any reason to believe this combination would revolutionize the world of Japanese animation. Which is precisely what makes it such a great story.

But first, a sidetrack. In April 1974 (incidentally 30 years to the month after the sinking of the battleship Yamato), a 10-minute pilot film was produced to pitch Space Battleship Yamato to TV networks. Budgetary restrictions precluded an original score, so one was instead culled from the personal record collection of sound supervisor Atsushi Tashiro. It was largely unremarkable by today’s standards, except for a souped-up rock version of Thus Spake Zarathustra, undoubtedly inspired by its use in 2001. The pop culture climate of the early 70s made it a natural (if somewhat cliched) pairing for any flashy new space story. And though it may have caught the ears of a network executive, it was not by any means the blueprint for what was to come. In fact, it was diametrically opposed.

“At first it seemed that a synthesizer would be a distinctive sound for Yamato,” Miyagawa commented a few years later, “but Mr. Nishizaki requested traditional instruments to better express the human heart. I thought that was an excellent idea. A synthesizer seemed to go hand in hand with science-fiction, but traditional instruments would better represent Earth’s human nature and become the lifeblood of the story. Synthesizer music would probably no longer speak to the heart after five or ten years.”

Once the green light was lit, every department charged forward at full speed to meet the October 6 premiere date. Miyagawa hunkered down to write the score and worked closely with Tashiro to get it arranged in time for recording in September. A total of 79 tracks were written, which included four synthesizer pieces that would be discarded. All the saga’s most memorable tracks were born in this period, including an undisputed masterpiece titled Endless Expanse of Outer Space.

Even if you’ve only seen Star Blazers, you know this track intimately. A gentle, lonely female voice rises and falls as Gamilon planet bombs rain unimaginable destruction down on Earth. Far more vivid and emotional than any sound effects could be, it is quite simply unforgettable. The voice belonged to pop singer Kazuko Kawashima (at left), who benefited enormously from this chance meeting.

“I was assigned the job to sing for Yamato purely by accident,” she said in 1998. “It was only 30 bars long, but everywhere I went afterward people asked me if I was the Kawashima who sang the ‘Yamato scat,’ which made me very happy. I’ve been singing for a long time, but it is still my number one treasure.” Kawashima was not the only “bit player” whose career was to be altered forever. An opening and closing title would have to be written, which meant hiring a lyricist and a singer.

Writer Yu Aku had dabbled in poetry and men’s manga during the 1960s, but his real claim to fame was as one of Japan’s most popular songwriters. Numerous awards propelled him to the top of his field where he became a powerful voice of contemporary culture. He was tapped to write lyrics for the opening and closing themes: Space Battleship Yamato and The Scarlet Scarf. It was only the beginning of what would become an enduring partnership. (Read an extended bio for Yu Aku here.)

Of even greater stature was the man chosen to sing those words. Isao Sasaki had made his debut as a recording artist with Nippon Columbia in the 1960s. His dual film-acting and music careers earned him the unofficial title “Japan’s Elvis,” upon which he also built a talent for voice acting–ultimately dubbing Elvis himself for Japanese cinema. Singing the Yamato theme brought him even greater fame and lead to a prolific career as an actor, emcee, reporter, radio personality, and much more. He is best known for his deep, rich singing voice and has recorded hundreds of songs both inside and outside the anime world.

“Back in the beginning, Mr. Nishizaki and I had very noisy meetings,” Sasaki said in 1981. “We put everything we had into Yamato. He likes manly songs that find magnificence in their gentleness. In that time, such sweetness and optimism was considered out of date. But I think it was important for Yamato to tap into that, to create a masterpiece that even a man from ancient Japan could appreciate. In the current climate, love songs are mainly thought to be about the happiness of two people. Through Yamato songs we find other kinds of happiness, and I think that’s good. Mr. Nishizaki did not want to make Yamato into a super-hero.”

Sasaki needed the strength of a super-hero to record both songs, however, since they proved the most difficult part of the September sessions.

“This is a serious process,” Miyagawa said about that time. “Mr. Nishizaki was especially particular about The Scarlet Scarf; the lyrics, the melody, the backing vocals, all of it. I put my heart and soul into arguments and all-night rehearsals, and Isao Sasaki’s voice was destroyed. We gave a toast in the early morning hours, swearing we would get through it.”

Once they did, Miyagawa found himself with a melody of tremendous power that could be re-arranged to suit multiple moods and scenes. Fortunately for American fans, none of that was diminished in any way for Star Blazers, which magically escaped the trap that swallowed up other imports whose music was entirely replaced by cheaper (usually inferior) alternatives.

Ironically–but not surprisingly–the opening and closing songs would perform far beyond their original purpose, becoming almost instant hits. In fact, they got so much radio airplay and sold so many records that the disappointingly low ratings of the TV series began to make it look like the second act.

This was another dividend of Nishizaki’s marketing genius. By offering music publishing rights to two labels simultaneously (the same strategy that begat a book publishing bonanza), he practically guaranteed its visibility. What made this possible was a division of formats. Nippon Columbia could release the songs on vinyl, while rival publisher Asahi Sonorama (who also handled novelizations and manga) could release the exact same songs on phonosheets; flexible translucent discs that they had renamed “sonosheets.”

Shortly after Yamato’s debut on TV, both companies released the opening and closing themes on their respective formats within two weeks of each other, and they were off to the races. As the music label for many children’s shows (both animated and live-action), Nippon Columbia got extra mileage out of the deal by including the Yamato songs on various compilation albums while Sonorama could tuck a Sonosheet into children’s books.

Oddly enough, there were no plans to follow suit with Miyagawa’s extraordinary soundtrack. Releasing the songs as singles was standard procedure at the time, so it was already customary to record both a “TV size” version (with one verse) and a longer studio version (with 2 or 3 verses) for retail. But with only a few exceptions, that’s as far as anime music merchandising went in the early days. This created an unfortunate catch-22, in that since soundtrack music wasn’t intended for commercial release, it wasn’t recorded in stereo. This was the case with all of Miyagawa’s original tracks. TV sets couldn’t broadcast in stereo, so why spend the money to record it that way? This was just the sort of thinking that had fueled the eternal struggle between art and commerce.

Fortunately, a third party was about to enter the fray and irrevocably tip the scales: the fans.

3rd Movement: COUNTERPOINT

Here and there, fans had been watching reruns of the first series and banding together to form private clubs. They published fanzines to fill the gap left open by a lack of merchandising, and talked up their love for the music with as much fervor as any other topic. When 1977 finally arrived and plans were being finalized for the feature film version, Nippon Columbia released the first Yamato LP about two weeks before the film opened.

Both they and Sonorama had experimented earlier with “drama” tracks on EP singles, and Columbia decided to take a chance on an all-drama album which provided an hour-long overview of the TV series. In its day, it was the equivalent of home video; many fans listened to it so often they could recite the lines. It also gave everyone a chance to replay parts of the score that hadn’t been released yet, and the response was thunderous. When the LP had been originally conceived, Columbia’s expectations were practically nil. Overnight, they had a monster hit on their hands. But, of course, it could not begin to quench the thirst for more.

With the success of the movie and a sequel on the horizon, all doubts about Yamato’s viability had been erased. Fans were begging for the release of a soundtrack, but Columbia’s next move would go far beyond anyone’s expectations. At the end of the year, (on Christmas Day, no less) they released the Symphonic Suite Yamato. Not only did it finally provide the pure instrumental experience everyone wanted, it offered up rich symphonic rearrangements of Miyagawa’s best work in full, glorious stereo sound. It was more than an album. It was gospel.

Three years had gone by since the original TV recording sessions, during which time Miyagawa had moved on to other projects and the “Musical Academy” had been dissolved. It was necessary to assemble a new group of musicians for this and forthcoming projects, leading to the formation of the Symphonic Orchestra Yamato. Surrounding himself with the best musicians he could get, Miyagawa struck gold with a top-rate guitarist named Yoshio Kimura. The new tracks were specifically arranged to make the most of his abilities, making him the first member of what would later be called the “Yamato trio.”

Prior to Symphonic Suite, the only such album that even came close was Nippon Columbia’s Jungle Emperor [Kimba] Symphonic Poem for Children. There was still a desire for Yamato’s actual score on LP, but the excellence of this album (not to mention its gorgeous jacket art) was undeniable and sales were record-setting. Even now, it is universally recognized as the single greatest Yamato music collection and a lynchpin in the growth of anime music as a legitimate art form.

Thus the three pillars of Yamato music merchandising had been established: singles (also referred to as ‘insertion songs’), drama albums, and symphonic collections. The stage was now set for 1978, and the explosive arrival of Farewell to Yamato.

4th Movement: CRESCENDO

It was preceded by another unexpected music release that explored yet a fourth possibility: concerts. In February, Miyagawa had conducted a live orchestra in the rendition of popular showtunes which included the first-ever onstage performance of Yamato music. It was released on LP as The World of Hiroshi Miyagawa by Nippon Columbia in May, just as he was readying the score for Farewell. It was perfectly timed to stoke the flame for more concerts, and fans were soon to get their wish.

But first there was a new soundtrack to record. It was a galvanizing experience for all involved. Most significantly, it brought the second member of the “Yamato trio” into the fold: classically-trained pianist Kentaro Haneda, whose role would become increasingly important as time went on.

Immediately after this, plans were made for a concert tour that would answer the growing demand for live music and promote the new film in the bargain. The Space Battleship Yamato Symphonic Concert kicked off with a special meeting of the official fan club at Nagoya City Hall on July 5th and was performed ten times throughout the month. The first half was almost a note-for-note live version of Symphonic Suite, followed by a completely new set from the forthcoming film–the first and probably best opportunity anyone would have had to hear them. Isao Sasaki sang the Yamato Theme and The Scarlet Scarf, signaling that he was here to stay. (In fact, he had been recruited onto the ship itself when he was hired to supply the voice of Saito [Sergeant Knox] in Farewell to Yamato.) Kazuko Kawashima was also there to reprise her most famous 30 bars.

Left out of the concert, however, was another song that would have a different sort of impact. Unbeknownst to the average fan, Columbia and Sonorama had been joined by a third label, Polydor Records, thanks to their contract with pop star Kenji Sawada (who at the time went by the stage name ‘Julie’). He had been hired to record the new ending theme, From Yamato With Love, which became a fixture in many ‘top ten’ radio programs (45rpm single shown below left). Sawada’s romantic voice was flawlessly combined with music written by his composer Yasuo Ono and words by Yu Aku, now Yamato‘s resident lyricist. It was the first time such heavy-hitting musical talent had contributed to an anime production, and news journals could no longer dismiss it as mere children’s entertainment. It was a significant step on the road to mainstream acceptance.

Along with Sawada’s single, a symphonic version of the film’s score was released the day before the movie opened in August 1978, engineered to match the production values of Symphonic Suite. Some of the tracks were heard in the film itself, particularly the pipe-organ White Comet Theme, but they could only be heard in stereo on the LP since Japanese cinemas at the time were only equipped with monaural speaker systems. Thus, the first chance anyone had to experience the story itself in stereo was by listening to Nippon Columbia’s drama LP (a double album this time), which came out in October.

Polydor followed up with a truly unique album titled Space Battleship Yamato: I Adore the Eternity of Love. Also titled New Disco Arrange Immortal Yamato, it was just that: a collection of scores from both the TV series and Farewell performed in disco-style, a move that clearly differentiated Polydor from Nippon Columbia. Most significantly, three of the tracks from this album found their way into the score of Yamato 2, which was already on TV by that time and benefiting tremendously from Farewell‘s box office success. Star Wars and Close Encounters had already broken this ground with disco albums of their own (created by wonky Italian composer Meco Monardo) and I Adore was perfectly tailored to ride the wave.

5th Movement: PROGRESSION

After the strides made by Polydor, fans wondered what else might arise from a label other than Nippon Columbia, and they got their answer in February 1979. Released by Tokuma (publisher of Animage magazine), the Yamato Theme Song and BGM Collection featured a grab-bag of songs and scores on the middle-ground hybrid format of 8″ flexidiscs. Most of these tracks hadn’t been released before, and a few have never appeared since, such as ‘karaoke’ versions of two songs.

The New Voyage brought more new sounds to the orchestra. As a followup to the White Comet Theme, Miyagawa wrote a similar one for the Dark Nebula Empire, this time to be performed by Japan’s best-known synthesizer artist, Hideki Matsutake. The very same instrument that was avoided in the beginning had finally found a home, and for the time it was quite a progressive move.

It was countered, however, by a step backward into a traditional Japanese singing style called Enka. Vocalist Chiyoko Shimakura was employed to perform the movie’s ending theme Sasha My Love as a classic ballad that drew the attention of music buffs in exactly the same way Kenji Sawada did the previous year. Yamato was gaining a reputation for consistently challenging preconceived notions of anime music and anime itself. Another step was taken at the end of 1979 when Columbia released the Yamato Choral and Piano Suite. Arranged by composer Jo Hisaishi, who would later become Hayao Miyazaki’s regular composer, the album pushed Yamato even further into a purely musical world.

6th Movement: MAGGIORE

Everything was multiplied in the summer of 1980 when enormous energy was poured into the campaign for Be Forever Yamato. This brought two more labels into the fold, King Records and Victor Entertainment. Unlike Polydor, both companies were limited to releasing song singles, but the star power they brought to the table raised the movie’s prestige even higher. Victor vocalist Hiromi Iwasaki contributed two love songs and King artist Akira Fuse created the uplifting ending theme, Love Until That Day (magazine ad shown at right).

Columbia contributed additional songs and reaped the benefits of another Miyagawa masterpiece. This time he threw all his muscle into a score so dense and massive that it filled up two symphonic albums and reinforced Columbia’s position as the ‘home office’ of Yamato music. Additionally, Symphony Orchestra Yamato was joined by the final member of the ‘Yamato Trio,’ violin virtuoso Tsugio Tokunaga.

Be Forever was also the first Yamato film to be released with a stereo soundtrack, which kicked in during the ‘Warp Dimension’ changeover. This meant that the full orchestra could finally be heard in the movie itself, and that some of the music composed for this part of the story could be included on the second symphonic LP a month after the premiere.

Over and above all this, Miyagawa was responsible for a major contribution to the promotional blitz when he lead the mother of all Yamato concerts, the Festival in Budokan.

The 14,000-seat Budokan Martial Arts Arena was originally built for the 1964 olympics and later became a world-class venue for large-scale rock concerts. The Beatles graced its stage in their Asian debut and a great many “Live at the Budokan” albums were recorded there by other famous acts, so Yamato‘s arrival was a true measure of its success.

The Yamato Festival in Budokan was a highly-anticipated carnival of light and sound to commemorate the approach of Be Forever. The event was both comprehensive and breathtaking, performed twice on July 24 and seen by over 20,000 people. Scenes from the new film were previewed and Miyagawa conducted the orchestra through many new pieces. Isao Sasaki and the other vocalists participated, along with nearly the entire voice-acting cast and key staff members. This included lyricist Yu Aku, who was already responsible for over half the Yamato songs that had been so far released. It was followed by TV broadcasts and a double LP from Nippon Columbia. Though it must still exist on videotape somewhere, it has regrettably never been seen again.

The next opportunity to make music part of a promotional strategy came up fast when Yamato III hit the airwaves in the fall of 1980. Though the ship was off on an entirely new voyage, the rock-solid Space Battleship Yamato theme was reused as an opening title. But this time, rather than just a single ending theme, circumstances allowed for the creation of two.

Starting with the third episode, viewers could hear the winning results of a Yamato poetry competition that had taken place during the tenure of Be Forever. The contest (which was conducted by a music magazine) gave fans the once-in-a-lifetime chance to write a song that would live forever in the Yamato pantheon. Nishizaki himself chose two winners out of the 8,000 entries: Yamato Be Forever, sung by Isao Sasaki, and Parting sung by Mitsuko Horie. Fans had played such an important role the saga’s musical evolution, it was a natural step for them to eventually steer the ship as well.

Their extraordinary enthusiasm gave notice to the music community that a score meant to accompany a film could have a life of its own. Thus it finally came to pass that Nippon Columbia released the actual BGM (Back Ground Music) tracks from both series 1 and 2 in 1981, winning the hearts of fans who had held out for this material from the beginning. It helped to complete the picture by allowing everyone to trace the phenomenon back to its roots, and demonstrate the staff’s amazing ability to break new ground with each production. The BGM was found to be as novel in 1981 as it had been back in 1974. And now that the 80s had arrived, it was time to take a step into the next musical generation.

7th Movement: FUGUE

Polydor’s 1978 Disco album and Columbia’s 1979 Choral album had demonstrated that the Yamato sound could successfully migrate into other genres. In the wake of Yamato III, fans saw an avalanche of concept albums that carried the idea further. Jo Hisaishi was re-engaged to co-create a second choral album that combined The New Voyage with a 1975 “super robot” series called Brave Raideen. Synthesizer soloist Jun Fukamachi was tapped to create the first of two Digital Trip Synthesizer Fantasy albums based on Yamato scores. Another 1982 album titled Anime Piano: Yamato/Gundam brought two pianists together and gave each of them one side of an LP to perform various tracks as soloists.

This was also the year the “Yamato Trio” stepped forward to make their own musical statements. Pianist Kentaro Haneda, guitarist Yoshio Kimura, and violinist Tsugio Tokunaga created three ‘rhapsody’ LPs which rearranged Yamato scores to favor each of their own instruments. They were titled Fascinating Piano, Mellow Guitar, and Romantic Violin. These outstanding albums symbolized the final step of Yamato music as an independent life form.

All these ambitious rearrangements showed a freedom of expression that expanded outward from the anime world into one of universal appeal. Fittingly, they still hold up over 20 years later and eloquently carry the listener back to the first, nostalgic generation of the Yamato saga. Taken as a single body of work, they sum up the true essence of Yamato film music, alive with versatility and independence.

But the most significant 1982 release was the first strike in the biggest music blitz of the production years: the Final Yamato campaign.

It was an album titled Prelude to Final Yamato, and it was probably the most unusual of the many symphonic LPs. The movie was proving difficult to write and taking longer than anyone expected, but enough raw ideas were in place for the composing to begin. The result was truly unique: a soundtrack “image album” that preceded its film by a year. It was in keeping with Nishizaki’s belief that music and story should grow together.

The album had three new and significant contributors: Akira Miyagawa (Hiroshi’s son) had sat in with Symphony Orchestra Yamato during the Yamato III sessions and now served as an arranger for half the album. Naoto Otomo, a highly-respected conductor, took command of the orchestra and would maintain it over the coming year. And most importantly, Kentaro Haneda had been promoted to co-write the ambitious new score with Hiroshi Miyagawa.

“The music in this latest production has a new feeling to it thanks to the contribution of Mr. Haneda,” Miyagawa wrote. “He regards classical music as his base. Therefore, this new Yamato score has a much more classical tone than the previous ones, along the lines of Tchiakovsky, Sibelius, or Faure. Producer Nishizaki’s purpose for bringing him into the mix was to open up a new world of music. Because I’ve known him for ten years, I fully understood Mr. Nishizaki’s intentions.”

It had been a long climb for Haneda, who had watched the first Yamato series in his college years and begged Miyagawa for a spot on the orchestra. His tremendous creative energy had made him a valuable assistant, especially in the arrangement of the various symphonic LPs.

8th Movement: CADENZA

There was just one promotional concert this time, but it easily eclipsed its predecessors in scale and grandeur. The Yamato Grand Festival was held in a single Tokyo performance on March 15, 1983, just four days before the premiere of Final Yamato. Over 2,000 fans packed into Shinjuku’s Kousei Nenkin Hall for the last chance to see all the luminaries on stage: Symphony Orchestra Yamato, Nobuo Hara Sharps & Flats (a combo that had been regularly called upon to assist in past concerts), Isao Sasaki and the small army of singers that had gathered over the years, the entire voice cast, and of course Yoshinobu Nishizaki. It was the greatest Yamato love-in ever, and pushed anticipation for Final Yamato into the stratosphere.

The film was initially released in 35mm with a monaural soundtrack, then re-engineered for a 70mm revival with unprecedented 6-channel stereo sound. By all measures, the score was a masterwork. Spanish-style guitar and numerous piano concertos expanded the library of symphonic music to nearly 8 hours. Six new songs were recorded, four of which were heard in the movie. Five singles were released by three different labels, which brought even more prestige to the project. Five symphonic LPs were released on two labels, Tokuma/Animage (who had become a major sponsor) and of course Nippon Columbia. The last Columbia album was released in August, officially closing the doors on the Yamato production years.

Nishizaki was ebullient in the last of his many liner note essays:

“In terms of music alone, my greatest meetings were with composer Hiroshi Miyagawa and sound supervisor Atsumi Tashiro. We are three people, but share the same unique personalities. If not for this combination, the music of Yamato could not have been born.

Mr. Miyagawa is now a world-famous composer and arranger. His natural talent can move both people and mountains. Mr. Tashiro deeply understands the music of Miyagawa and its relationship to the story. Moreover, he has the patience and takes the trouble to understand me. I cannot say just how much he has helped and taught me over the last 10 years.

In addition, I will never forget my time with the powerful lyricist, Yu Aku.

When we started to make Final Yamato, I talked with Miyagawa and Tashiro about bringing in some new blood to freshen things up. This lead to the appointment of Kentaro Haneda, the greatest pianist in Japan. The story this time goes all the way back to the formation of Earth and the creation of mankind. Such a sweeping, historical scale necessitates the use of classical music. Therefore I wanted Haneda and his classical background. He grasped everything about Yamato and created some amazing music for me.

Haneda came up the ranks under Miyagawa as his junior, and each of them refused to work without the other. Miyagawa was still in charge of the music as a whole, but Haneda increased its density and depth.

In addition, I cannot forget the achievements of the excellent musicians. I am deeply thankful to the three masters, Haneda on piano, Tsugio Tokunaga on violin, and Yoshio Kimura on guitar, who can express a Miyagawa melody better than anyone.

One day I will put the 10-year history of Yamato behind me with heartfelt gratitude to all who supported me. Then I will look forward to our next work with great pleasure.”

Naturally, this was not the end of Yamato music. It was only the beginning of its legacy. In less than ten years, this tremendous success story had elevated anime music from a mere footnote to the most lucrative form of merchandising. Songs, BGM albums, symphonic suites, and drama records were now standard issue for popular movies or TV series. Many awards had been given for this innovation, including the Japan Grand Prix Record award in 1978 for the first two drama and symphonic LPs. The new respectability of the art form attracted more and better talent, leading to a creative renaissance that improved anime itself. Yamato was universally recognized as the industry leader, and there was still plenty of life in it as a musical enterprise.

9th Movement: RESOLUTION

Shortly after completing his work on Final Yamato, Kentaro Haneda (now in great demand as a composer for other anime such as Macross, Orguss, and Space Cobra) got to work on his own personal brainchild, the Grand Symphony Yamato. He reworked Miyagawa’s best themes and motifs from the saga into a cohesive, 4-movement symphony that was performed by the NHK Symphony Orchestra and became one of the first three Yamato albums released on CD in 1985.

The arrival of this new format meant collectors could now replace their [presumably] worn-out LPs and Nippon Columbia could profit mightily from the Yamato catalog, though it took them another ten years to get serious about out. Starting in 1995, almost every Columbia release was reissued in one wave after another. The pot was sweetened by the inclusion of previously unreleased BGM tracks, picking up where the two 1981 albums left off.

The creators of Yamato music were not idle during this time, either. Haneda and Miyagawa teamed up again in 1985 to co-write the score for Nishizaki’s next project, Odin: Photon Sailor Starlight, and generated two soundtrack albums that easily lived up to their collaberation on Final Yamato. Afterward, both men went their separate ways. Haneda busied himself in all manner of orchestral works and became a guest professor at the Tokyo College of Music, pausing to serve as the musical supervisor for Nishizaki’s Yamato 2520 in 1994. In ’95, Miyagawa formed a new combo called the ‘Group of Vagrants’ and developed a one-man show for himself. He was also employed as the Seibu Theatre’s music director and participated in many live performances with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra.

Isao Sasaki’s career spiraled ever upward, though he would always be most closely associated with the Yamato Theme. The same was true of Kazuko Kawashima, who had reprised her unforgettable outer space ‘scat’ vocal at every single Yamato concert. They were both reunited with Miyagawa two years running for a pair of “Rail of Fantasy” concerts pioneered by Leiji Matsumoto in 1998 and ’99. This was the period in which Matsumoto had taken a major role in the revival of Yamato and touched off a new gold rush of merchandising. When he decided to set the great ship on a new course, Miyagawa was immediately enlisted as his first mate.

“If we were to ask 100 people,” Matsumoto wrote in 1999, “120% of them would insist that the music of Miyagawa must never change. Just as a person cannot be separated from their voice, Yamato and its theme music are one thing. It could be said that Yamato‘s fate is dependent on its music.”

Working closely with Nippon Columbia (now renamed Columbia Records), they created a completely new symphonic suite that revisited early material and brought forth new themes based on a sequel titled Great Yamato.

“I chose my favorite Yamato motifs to compose this symphonic suite,” Miyagawa said. “This time my son Akira helped me to do the arrangement. He understands the project very well and this outstanding music will help ‘Great Yamato’ stand out as a work of art. I’m sure it will be compared favorably with whatever musical upgrade is in store for a future Yamato.”

The Great Yamato Symphonic Suite was the first CD in a long-awaited line called the Eternal Edition series. Released in 2000 and ’01, it finally made the entire Yamato BGM library available along with bonus tracks cherry-picked from the various concept albums. The series was warmly received by fans whose enthusiasm for Yamato music was just as strong as it had ever been. Some of those same fans had gone on to recording careers of their own, and the number of albums with cover versions of the original theme had practically exploded.

10th Movement: FINALE

Columbia released the Eternal Edition Premium set in late 2004, a complete collection of the symphonic albums on CD. Big changes were afoot for the master licensor of Yamato music, and they would result in one last return to the well. Columbia Producer Masashi Yagi wrote about it in 2005:

“The record company well-known to Yamato fans is changing its name to Columbia Music Entertainment and moving to a new location. Along with this move, it was decided to close down the Columbia Studio in Akasaka at which so many excellent records were produced. To commemorate this occasion, we wanted this studio’s last recording to be a Yamato title.

It has been 30 years since the birth of Yamato. Much has happened to the anime music industry in the time since then, and there were many times when I thought a director of an old-style record company would be washed away in the tide. So many times, the Columbia Music Studio blazed the trail. Now the life of that studio is about to end.

Yamato is one of the most important works of our culture, and I’m glad the studio had the chance to produce one more Yamato album. I’m proud to have been associated with it as its music director. It began as my own selfish, private affair, but it allowed me to give the studio one last taste of glory.”

This final project was Acoustic Yamato, a CD released in March 2005. It was a concept album by Akira Miyagawa, who by this time had come into his own with a dual career conducting the Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra and starring in a music-based children’s program on NHK (Japan’s PBS) called Quintet. He and his longtime collaborator, sax player Makoto Hirahara, produced an elegant, thoughtful album that took his father’s work into yet another unexplored direction.

Sadly, the album was destined to be the first of the ‘lasts’ in the long, rich history of Yamato music. A year after its release, Hiroshi Miyagawa died at 75 of heart failure on March 21, 2006. A rush of tribute concerts and albums followed, each of which could only scratch the surface of the maestro’s talents.

The other two giants of Yamato music followed with alarming swiftness. Kentaro Haneda was lost to liver cancer at 58 on June 2, 2007. Lyricist Yu Aku was also claimed by cancer just two months later, on August 1 of the same year.

Therefore, unlike other threads of the Space Battleship Yamato phenomenon, this one has a definitive and decisive end. Never again will there be a new Yamato song written by Yu Aku, nor a symphony by Miyagawa or Haneda. But they all lived long enough to fully enjoy the rewards for their generous gifts. They are gifts that will be forever timeless, renewed with each new generation whose hearts are captured by that mighty theme.

The End

Lengthy as this history may be, it still only hits the high points. Click on the links below to explore a complete Yamato discography with extensive reviews, trivia and liner notes.

TV Series 1 Discography

About the opening theme song

Space Battleship Yamato Movie Discography

Farewell to Yamato Discography

Yamato 2 Discography

The New Voyage Discography

Be Forever Yamato Discography

Yamato III Discography

Concept Albums

Final Yamato Discography

Music in Star Blazers

Legacy Years Discography

Concert History

Tribute to Hiroshi Miyagawa

Tributes to Kentaro Haneda and Yu Aku

Interview with Isao Sasaki

Gallery of “cover albums”

Interview with the sound effects wizards

A talk with Leiji Matsumoto, Hiroshi Miyagawa & Hideaki Anno

The Scorecard:

Total number of albums: 56
Total number of singles: 28
Total number of songs: 23

Attention collectors: Some Yamato albums and singles were exported from Japan in the early 1980s with a different company label on them (example shown above right), DENON instead of Nippon Columbia. This was the name of a Japanese recording-technology corporation that merged with Columbia in 1947. Today they are a world leader in digital audio and video.

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