…Into the Light

An Overview of Yamato Fan History, Part 2

(Click here to read part 1 if you haven’t already.)

Though the bulk of Space Battleship Yamato activity was happening at the fan club level between 1975 and 1977, things were going on in more high-profile realms that would also move the cause forward.

Shincon was an annual summer convention for science fiction fans held in Kobe, Japan. It was here that Yamato won its first award in 1975, the Nebula Award in the category of film and television. The stakes were raised in August 1976 at Tokyo’s Tokon 6, in which artists from Studio Nue hosted ‘Yamato Hour,’ a slide presentation showcasing their design work on the series. It was primarily at these two conventions that the world of anime finally fused together with novels, manga, and film.

This was the same year Yamato was to see its first-ever magazine cover story when the 2nd issue of the quarterly Fantoche (April 1976) used the iconic painting of Starsha to accompany an interview with Leiji Matsumoto. Fantoche was not quite mainstream, but it was definitely a step up from club fanzines and could be considered the forefather of the many anime magazines that followed since it was the first one created to report on animated productions. It was the pet project of artist Yoshikazu Hirose, who had done color design for Yamato, and it carried advertising from Yamato licensors Asahi Sonorama (manga) and Nippon Columbia (music).

There was even some fresh Yamato news to spread around when word leaked out of a movie being assembled from TV footage. CBYL was the first to report this in the pages of Astronaut, though it could only say that the movie was being prepared for other countries. (Read a full account of its genesis here.)

A new club appeared in February 1977 called Cosmo Battleship Yamato Connection (CBYC). Their fanzine Iscandar was the first to rival the output of Yamato Association, containing a wholly different archive of animation cels, scripts, storyboards, and exceptionally good fan art. Priced at 1000 yen per copy (about $10 today) it was significantly more expensive than its predecessors. Its extraordinary production values were prized by fans almost as highly as a TV rerun.

Added up, all of this represented a turning point at which Yamato‘s target audience was no longer said to be elementary school children. What happened next took full advantage of that fact.

Mr. W meets Mr. K

‘Mr. W’ was a shadowy figure to most. He had joined the CBYL shortly after its founding and stepped up to handle most of the design and layout duties for the various fanzines. For reasons best known to him, he didn’t want his real name on anything, so he opted for the ‘Mr. W’ title and became the club’s mastermind for packaging and marketing.

Yamato Association members
at the 1977 SF Christmas Manga Festival

He stuck with the group through its reformation and was instrumental in taking everyone to the next step: professional publishing. Club member Hideaki Ito had made contact with another mysterious individual known as ‘Mr. K’ who was readying a new magazine for publication. It was going to be titled Monthly Magazine OUT, and a summit meeting at the March 1977 SF Christmas Manga Festival laid the groundwork for Yamato Association to create a major feature for its second issue.

Mr. W brought home a copy of OUT #1 for reference the next day, and the group went into overdrive. At last, it was their shot at the big time.

So what was OUT all about? That was a hard question to answer even at the time. Published by a newsprint wholesaler called Minori Shobo, it was essentially Mr. K’s personal hobby, a grab-bag of foreign sci-fi coverage, B-movie retrospectives, pulp fiction, social commentary, weird comics, and more. Basically, any subculture that didn’t have the approval of mainstream media had a home in OUT.

Naturally, the first issue had only sluggish sales. Which made it even more interesting when #2 (carrying a June cover date) hit like a tornado in April.

Mr. K’s phone rang louder and longer than it ever had the day after the release. Newsstands everywhere had been cleaned out, and desperate fans couldn’t find copies. It was the first time Yamato had received any sort of high-visibility coverage, and seemingly every fan in the nation was aware of it.

The staff of Yamato Association had truly outdone themselves. It must have been tempting to reprint their favorite fanzine pages, but at the advisement of Mr. W they started from scratch and churned out 60 pages of new material (12 in color) with the title “Yamato World.”

The now-priceless production archive served them well, making possible a wide range of features including a product guide, a look at the animation process, a fanzine review, episode synopsis, character guide, an extensive glossary, and one of the very first interviews with Yoshinobu Nishizaki, in which it was announced that the Yamato movie was coming to Japan after all. There was a dose of parody in a “Q&A with Analyzer [IQ-9]” segment and a clever flip-book scene in the corner of each page.

Everyone involved could be rightfully proud of their achievement; it was the culmination of all their previous labors, it instantly found a grateful audience, and it showed the entire nation what real anime coverage should look like. But the most important thing it did was capture the attention of Yoshinobu Nishizaki, who had something special in mind for the Yamato Association.

Critical Mass

Nishizaki had already been working tirelessly to find a distributor for the Yamato movie. The Tokyu cinema chain was interested, but only in a limited run at four of its theatres. Not satisfied with this, he continued looking for ways to start a grass-roots movement that would improve the film’s chances. Thanks to the work of Yamato Association and countless other clubs, he suddenly realized that he had an entire army at his disposal.

In an unprecedented move, he personally contacted representatives from each of the major clubs and invited them to participate in the purest form of guerilla marketing; posting flyers everywhere they could. He upped the ante with an early example of viral marketing, encouraging fans to call radio stations and request the Yamato theme, bug TV stations to rerun the show, and ask newspapers to report on the forthcoming film. A still-intact copy of the guerilla marketing kit is shown here; the card shown in the center contains contact information for various media.

In return for a copy of the flyer, an animation cel, and a chance for a free movie ticket, fans did their part gladly–and the vital tipping point was reached. The Toei theatre chain, knowing a good thing when they saw it, stepped in and agreed to distribute Space Battleship Yamato to theatres across the country starting on August 6.

Yamato Association‘s relationship with OUT magazine was strengthened when Mr. W brokered a follow-up to their groundbreaking June issue. “Yamato World Part 2″ filled another 50 pages in the September issue, which went on sale in July. This provided the first-ever look at the origins of the TV series, interviews with director Noboru Ishiguro and singer Isao Sasaki, a 16-page parody manga, and another talk with Yoshinobu Nishizaki.

It provided a fascinating glimpse of the man at a key moment, as everything was ascending toward the movie premiere. It was perhaps the first time since 1973 that he knew his dues were paid in full. Yamato was going to reach its intended audience and he was aglow with positive energy, even going on record for the first time about a sequel.

The End of the Beginning

And the rest was history. Everyone who played a part in the first generation of Yamato fandom was handsomely rewarded–as were we all by extension.

OUT magazine’s readership had flagged between its two Yamato issues, which put the writing on the wall for Mr. K: anime coverage was the way to the future. He actually left the magazine at the end of 1977, but cleared the way for Mr. W and others to drop the dead-end features and evolve into an all-anime format at exactly the time Japan needed one. They innovated one new idea after another, developing numerous spinoff projects, giving major coverage to each subsequent Yamato film, and turning OUT into an industry leader.

Publishing giant Tokuma Shoten was the first to answer this challenge when Animage magazine made its summer 1978 debut. The first two issues of the first anime specialty magazine had Yamato covers and were there in time to absorb the full impact of Farewell to Yamato‘s release. Numerous other publishers were quick to follow this lead, and the anime magazine industry was born.

When Mr. W departed for greener pastures at OUT, Yamato Association lost its mastermind. They decided to close up shop in August 1978 when the chaos of Yamato Fever proved too much to keep up with. But by then their goal had been met many times over. High-end publishers and licensors were now delivering the Yamato products these fans had always longed for, and the knowledge that they themselves made these products possible must have been immensely satisfying. The members went on to adult life, occasionally reconvening to brainstorm some new project and relive old times. Their names became somewhat legendary as their early influence became better understood. For a few of them, their time in the trenches became a springboard to a career. One member, Masaru Komaki, became the editor-in-chief of Animec Magazine, and Hideaki Ito became a consultant for Bandai where he supervised special Yamato projects such as the DVD sets and the 2008 limited edition model kit.

Though he never again needed fans to guerilla-market a movie for him, Yoshinobu Nishizaki kept them close by. He launched the official Yamato Fan Club in December 1977 with a bi-monthly magazine that provided the connective structure the private clubs had always lacked. These groups now numbered in the hundreds (a 1978 estimate put their total at 823) and kept tabs on each through a ‘fan club plaza’ section in the official magazine. It created a network that was called upon time and time again to attend conferences, round table forums, concerts, screenings, and more.

The number of Yamato fanzines grew exponentially at roughly the same rate as Comiket, which went on to reach staggering numbers. At the start of the 21st century, tens of thousands of circles were regularly pulling in over half a million customers, making Comiket the largest event of its kind in the world. (Below left: the lineup for a 1978 Comiket. Below right: the same event in 2007)

But in the end, those who received the greatest gifts from the first generation of Yamato fans is…us. Without their tireless devotion, it’s quite possible that the entire medium of anime would have taken much longer to reach critical mass, if it was reached at all. Movies and TV shows inspired by Yamato might never have been made. A wealth of anime products might never have followed. A global phenomenon might never have come to pass, leaving our lives less enriched.

It could only have happened once, and we’re extremely lucky that it did.

The End

Read more about this phase of Yamato fandom:

Inside OUT magazine (includes all Yamato content)

Tatsuya Nakatani on the Yamato movie

Round table discussion with members of CBYL and Yamato Association

Anime Great Love: a memoir

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