Picture yourself as one of the lucky Japanese fans who got to see the very first TV broadcast of Space Battleship Yamato in October 1974. Right away, you’re grabbed by the art design, the drama, the atmosphere, the music, and the promise of greater things to come. It’s exactly the sort of nuanced, sophisticated anime you’ve been waiting for.
Chances are, most of the merchandising wasn’t meant for you.
Despite all the artistic strides that had been made in the 1960s, TV Manga (the word ‘anime’ didn’t exist yet) was still considered a children’s medium. In the early 70s, Lupin III, Mazinger Z and were the first indicators of the change to come, and Yamato would later provide the tipping point in 1977. Before that point was reached, before licensors could actually SEE who the audience was, almost all their efforts went toward the making of “kid stuff.”
Once this fact is understood, Yamato begins to look like a bold (perhaps even foolhardy) attempt to entertain an audience that wasn’t on the radar yet. Tremendous effort had gone into its design and animation, both of which were full of subtleties that only older viewers could truly appreciate. Most of this was lost when Yamato was stuffed through the merchandising mill, and what came out the other end was essentially laundered of authenticity.
That said, it’s fascinating to look back (now that all the wrongs have been righted) and see the undeniable charm of this first generation of products. It vividly displays the standards and trends of the time and teases us with different take on Yamato that was all about fun.
The Office Academy copyright is visible on many of these products; that was the licensing arm of Yoshinobu Nishizaki’s Academy Studio. We don’t see the Space Cruiser Yamato name yet because it wouldn’t enter the lexicon until 1977. This is not everything from the first generation, but other items will be added as they are discovered.
Bandai’s first generation of model kits is covered here.
This cap from Chuo Boshi Hanbai [Central Hat Sales] put some barely-contained Yamato action right on your noggin with soaring fighterplanes and an explosive scene of Kodai taking a giant leap as Dessler puts up his dukes. Just like in the show!
But here’s what made this cap truly Yamato-riffic: flip-down sunglasses that fit right over your eyes for anti-flash protection when that Wave-Motion Gun goes off!
Who wouldn’t want to adorn their feet with Yamato if given the chance? The Asahi company gave them the chance with this pair of slip-on sneakers.
Coloring errors aside, this was actually one of the more high-quality art efforts (as you will see).
Kodai and Analyzer were popular characters to highlight, a boy and his robot. The Maruchiu company put them on these rubber sandals, which made Kodai appear ambidextrous.
On the other hand, the Marusa company decided Yamato could go it alone on this pair of vinyl house slippers.
The Iwai Company made children’s clothing items. Their entire Yamato lineup is pictured here: a belt, swim trunks, and suspenders. Because that’s really all you need sometimes. Note: the swim trunks are unique in that they are the only piece of Yamato merchandise to include artwork from the “lost” manga series by Yuki Hijiri. Read it in full here.
The maker of these is unknown, but they knew how to accessorize; Kodai for boys, Yuki for girls, Yamato for everyone.
The Athena Company made Yamato towel and washcloth sets. The large-size bathtowel at left used early character and mecha designs. Bombastic action poses of Kodai were a common motif since he was promoted as an action hero.
Based on the similarity in style, this cloth product may also have been made by Athena. Color choices weren’t subject to a lot of oversight in those days.
Back when it was acceptable to expectorate into a cloth and carry it around with you, the Nakanishi Company made the set shown here.
Nothing says Yamato like a canteen or thermos, as represented by this three-product lineup from the Musashino Company. Action hero Kodai is back, this time throwing a gang sign from the back of the thermos while Analyzer nods approvingly.
Dish set 1
If any children actually sat down to watch Yamato on Sunday evenings, there were two sets of dishes for their TV trays. The first came from the Mama company and applied the same limited artwork to all three items.
Strangely, they gave Captain Okita a brown beard on the plate. Just to bug you.
Dish set 2
The Sanko Toki company made the other set using slightly different artwork.
The rendering of Kodai was not based on any anime image, instead taken (for some reason) from the manga by Akira Hio.
Japan’s Amada Printing Co. was another early entrant into the licensing brotherhood. Amada made mini card sets for many anime and live action TV programs, and they all followed the same format: 2″ x 2.5″ cards and a variety of 3″ x 5.5″ pocket books to keep them in.
The Yamato set consisted of 60 cards. Though they were easily eclipsed by book publishing in later years, they were a very rare source of color stills in the early years, and thus were highly valued by the first generation of fans.
The Lotte Candy Company (still in business today) pushed their package art to a higher standard, keying off Leiji Matsumoto’s manga drawings and some more-developed spaceship designs to create five different wrapper styles.
Characters were on the front and ships were on the back. Shown at right is a rare glimpse at some the original paintings, found by a collector and posted on Twitter.
In the great Bazooka Joe tradition, prizes were wrapped around each stick of gum. They came in three categories. The first was a set of ten stickers.
The second was a set of ten “Secret Information” images with confidential data you were not allowed to share with ANYONE.
And finally, a line of “Secret Message” images. By folding over the left side, the complete message would be rendered as shown in the inset.
Lotte also made caramels, which came with their own stickers made to look like filmstrips (see a collection of them here).
The Marusan [Circle 3] Novelty Company released a truly strange set of Yamato images in this lively sticker set.
Action hero Kodai is joined here by action hero Yuki, both prepared to defeat the Gamilons with the fury of their kung fu. (You remember that episode…don’t you?) Get a closer look at this set here.
Action hero Kodai totally dominated this lineup of products from the Kutsuwa company. Above and below we have a pair of folders shown front and back.
There was also a set of two pocket notebooks with art inside and out.
Here he is again on a pair of pencil holders. If you look very closely, you’ll notice that this Kodai chooses not to wear socks.
It’s just barely evident on these erasers as well. There was a theme happening here.
Sockless Kodai reappears on these pencil sets manufactured by the Tombow Company (Tombow is the Japanese word for Dragonfly, hence the logo), which were probably drawn by the same artist who worked for Kutsuwa.
Exhibit A would be the matching off-model handguns. Tombow made both color and standard pencils, some of which remain unused in the hands of collectors.
Showa Note Products
Showa Note released the most art-heavy products. Like Kutsuwa, they used a small stable of artists whose style is easy to track from one product to the next. As indicated by their name, Showa Note specialized in paper goods.
We’ll start with their splashiest product, the 32-page “Sho-chan Nurie” (noo-ri-ay) which means coloring/activity book. See it from cover to cover here.
This was a smaller-format version with two variant covers. It had the same page count as the larger one and reused most of the same art, but had a few different pages to keep you on your toes. See it here.
Here is yet another coloring product, a set of two posters with much better art than their predecessors – obviously done with direct reference from the anime. They may, in fact, have come from a different publisher. Data is still elusive.
Next up, we have what is known as a “kakikaki,” a kiddified term that translates to “write/draw.”
It was mostly a blank notebook with four pages at either end, lifted from the coloring books.
These versions came in a smaller format. The game shown at right was on the back cover of both.
This was the interior art for both, new images by the same artist who did the coloring books.
Here we have a sketch pad with about fifty blank pages. The back cover contained two DIY flying saucers, fully capable of putting someone’s eye out.
There were at least two variant covers for this product…
…and at least one other DIY project on the back cover. They all had the same title page featuring the three most important Yamato characters: Kodai, Okita, and Captain Harlock.
Above left is a mini-jigsaw puzzle, next to its larger, more colorful counterpart showing our heroes in even greater peril.
And finally, this product was Showa Note’s personal best: an elaborate “pocketbook” set consisting of a laminated protector that opened to reveal greeting cards, a note pad, stickers, a mini-guidebook consisting entirely of original art seen nowhere else.
Get a better look at the entire set here.
Popy released the first Yamato toys as the TV series was starting its last month on the air. The first was a diecast metal Cosmo Zero in the “Popynica” series that could fire spring-loaded plastic discs out of its nose.
This was Popy’s other release, a small vinyl Analyzer in three colors: red, blue, and turquoise (all three shown here). These would be Popy’s only Yamato products until they returned in 1980 as a licensor of both Be Forever and Yamato III.