I Love Anime! A Memoir

I Love Anime! From Yamato to Gundam is a unique name for a unique book, one of the first to provide an in-depth examination of how anime and anime fandom evolved during the “second phase” of the medium, the 1970s. At the beginning of the decade, “TV manga” cartoons were almost entirely made for children in elementary school (or younger). By 1979, the word “anime” had been coined to describe a rich, diverse world of entertainment with high school and college students as its core audience.

The medium changed at every major level during this time, driven by fans who knew what they wanted from their pop culture and took steps to make it happen. As the title of this book implies, Space Battleship Yamato and Mobile Suit Gundam were the cardinal points at either end of this time period, though the book touches briefly on programs of the early 70s like Mazinger Z and Gatchaman.

Written and edited by Noriaki Ikeda, it contains contributions from fans who were there to see it close up. Some, like Yamato superfans Tatsuya Nakatani and Asami Kushino, served as contributing writers. The book covers a wide range of topics with wit and wisdom, and was probably one of the first to do so when it was published by Tokuma Shoten (creators of Animage and the Roman Album series) in November 1982.

Presented here are the sections of I Love Anime devoted to Yamato, up to and including the release of the first movie. Together they provide an insider’s view of a fascinating time in anime history. Click on the links below to read them in full.

In addition to those pieces, I Love Anime is peppered with columns and sidebars that shed light on lesser known aspects of Yamato and related topics. They are presented below for the enlightenment of all, augmented with up-to-date information where appropriate…

Warp Navigation

Yamato was the first anime to make use of warp navigation as a story point. Prior to this, faster-than-light travel had only been depicted in one other anime, Space Ace. In that series, a ship called the Seahorse applied the principle of an ‘overdrive ring’ to distort space and create a different kind of warp travel. Another Tatsunoko series from 1975 called Space Knight Tekkaman substituted warp drive with its own method, called ‘rip navigation.’ Warp navigation, rip navigation, wormholes, etc. are just a few of the many solutions science fiction has developed to surpass the speed of light.

The Warship March

Episode 2 of Yamato had an interesting musical change after its first broadcast. During a flashback scene to the World War II battleship Yamato, a traditional Japanese military march was heard. This was a subject of great anxiety among the production staff. Leiji Matsumoto had this to say about it:

During production of the second episode, we had a major uproar over the inclusion of a traditional military march scene. We felt this would surely be misconstrued as a political statement, so we decided to change the music [for reruns]. These days, we wouldn’t be concerned about it, but back then we worried ourselves silly over things that no other TV production even considered.

The imaginary scandal passed by 1977, at which time the original march music was heard again in the Yamato movie.

New Mecha Image

The opening titles for Space Battleship Yamato contain scenes of the ship that were animated by Kaoru Senguchi, who went on to make a name for himself on SF robot anime including Fang of the Sun Dougram. His version of the ship differed slightly from that of Leiji Matsumoto and Studio Nue, showing a smoother and more consistent image. Regrettably this did not become the standard for the series.

Export to Asia

Yamato was broadcast in Southeast Asian countries where Japan’s emerging pop culture helped to facilitate diplomatic ties. Pirated books and manga inevitably popped up in Hong Kong and Taiwan. There, the series was renamed Sky Warship, with ‘sky’ meant to indicate ‘outer space.’ In most cases, however, Yamato was still something of a taboo word outside Japan.

Fanxiety! Yamato vs. Heidi!

Heidi of the Alps was broadcast on Japan’s NHK World Masterpiece Theatre on Sunday nights from January 1974. This gave fans great anxiety when Yamato premiered in the same timeslot on a different network in October.

Some fans were so torn, they watched one program as long as they could stand it before switching to another. (Asami Kushino of the Yamato Laboratory fan club solved it by watching two TVs side by side.) Older family members were bewildered by such behavior, but Yamato ultimately ended up on the losing side of the battle with low ratings. This problem was only remedied when reruns started in 1975, free and clear of such ferocious competition.

As the number of anime programs increased, programming clashes became more common. One of the worst such instances came in 1975 when three popular shows, Star of La Seine, Naughty Ancient Kumu Kumu, and Brave Raideen, all went head-to-head on Friday nights. Many young minds were damaged for life by such dilemmas.

(Editor’s note: Kumu Kumu was the breakout anime for superstar artist Yasuhiko Yoshikazu, who was also a Yamato staff member. Read about his work here.)

Pre-Yamato mecha action

Mazinger Z, Gatchaman, and Zerotester were three pre-Yamato series that became particularly popular for their fantastic mecha. Of the three, Zerotester is the least known now, but was the meeting place for a powerhouse of anime talent. The list included Noboru Ishiguro, who would go on to become Yamato‘s chief director. Others were Yoshiyuki Tomino and Ryosuke Takahashi, who would go on to create the most popular Nippon Sunrise programs in the 1980s.

The series was similar in concept to The Thunderbirds, with five super mecha standing in the way of alien invasion. Crystal Art Studio was responsible for the amazing mecha. The following year they were renamed Studio Nue and took on Yamato. Read more about this legendary studio here.

Saving Cels from the Garbage

Members of the Yamato fan club visited Office Academy frequently to help “dispose” of the huge stacks of animation cels left over from the TV series. Some were too large to fit into paper bags and so were left behind and presumably lost forever. Others made their way to individual homes, where they became eternal treasures. Now many turn up in collector’s shops and online auctions, with significant scenes commanding higher prices.

The Radio Drama(s)

Stereo Manga Space Battleship Yamato was first broadcast as an 8-episode serial on NHK FM in August, 1977 (just over two weeks after the movie premiere). It included a singer, a narrator, and the first-ever stereo sound mix for a Yamato production. Fans were a bit disappointed that the actual sound effects from the TV series were not used; real-world sounds were heard instead for guns firing and such. All the episodes of this unique presentation have been unearthed and can be heard here (The blog of Japanese superfan Sword Takeda).

A much better version was heard a few months later on the Nippon Broadcast Network, starting midnight December 1st. This one had an impressive running length of four hours and included not only the full voice cast, but also the Yamato Symphonic Suite as background music. (The first time it was heard by anyone.) A phone-in session with listeners capped off the event, which would become become a staple of future movie campaigns.

Listen to this amazing piece of audio history here (bottom of page). The Farewell to Yamato radio drama can be heard here.

Which Poster is best?

Three posters were made for the release of the first Yamato movie. The ‘A’ poster depicted Starsha overseeing the departure of Yamato from Earth. The ‘B’ poster was a preliminary version using the unique Studio Nue Yamato design. Fans overwhelmingly preferred poster A. Everyone agreed that the painting technique was superior on poster B, but the composition and color of poster A was more appealing.

One anomaly in this design was the fact that Yamato is departing from a blue Earth rather than one reddened by radioactivity. It is in fact the blue Earth from Homer’s dream in episode 19, but it could be interpreted as the homeworld of everyone’s dreams.

A ‘C’ poster was created later out of a montage of cel images.

The Pros and Cons of the first Yamato LP

Fans had long been waiting for the first Yamato LP record when it was released by Nippon Columbia on July 25, 1977 (shortly before the movie premiere). Their greatest desire was to finally hear the classic BGM written by Hiroshi Miyagawa, but many were surprised to drop the needle and hear voices. It was in fact a storybook album that condensed the TV series, later called a Drama Album when the format caught on.

Diehard fans were let down, especially those who had already taped TV episodes on a cassette recorder. Nevertheless, this was the only major Yamato product to be found when the movie was released, and it broke every sales record when it moved almost half a million copies that summer.

Read all about Yamato music history here.

16mm Blowup

New scenes that had been added to the end of the Yamato feature film were quite grainy when projected in theatres, the result of a 16mm print being enlarged to 35mm.

When the TV series was made, it was an industry standard to shoot all animation in 35mm (for both TV and film) then reduce it down to 16mm for broadcast. Because of budgetary restrictions, these scenes went the other way–animated and shot in 16mm, then enlarged. A frame at 16mm size is only one-quarter the size of its 35mm counterpart, but the grain density is the same on both. This accounts for the grains appearing larger in the blowup.

This became a greater problem in later years, when animation production increased. Since 16mm film was cheaper, it went into heavier useage. This came back to bite such high-profile productions as Gundam and Ideon when they were converted from TV shows to feature films, and created more headaches in later decades when programs shot on 16mm began to show their age when converted to digital video, such as the original Macross.

Fan Activity and Comiket

Doujinshi (fanzines) have increased sharply over the last 3-4 decades. The biggest leaps have been in those doujinshi with a focus on anime and manga. This is arguably because the current generation grew up with anime from their infancy, and participating in fan activity is now a natural step.

In the early years, this aspect arose from the need to seek out and communicate with like-minded people and produce something to express their mutual devotion. It is said that this was first inspired by Triton of the Sea, and then increased rapidly with the broadcast of Yamato.

The mounting activity inspired the founding of Comic Market [Comiket] in December 1975 with only 32 participating ‘circles’ (publishing groups) and about 600 attendees. Since then, the number of vendors has risen to the tens of thousands and over half a million people attend the twice-yearly event. It is now the largest of its kind in the world.

See a Wikipedia entry on Comiket here.

Read all about Japanese Yamato doujinshi here

Above left: the lineup for Summer Comiket in 1978. Above right: the same event in 2007.

The Birth of Anime Magazines

When was the anime specialty magazine born? It is generally agreed that it was the launch of Animage in June 1978. Within four years, the number of monthly magazines expanded to four, which says much about the overwhelming need for such publications. Of course, Space Battleship Yamato had a central role in this growth.

It can also be said that this phenomenon began in April 1977 with the release of Minori Shobo’s OUT magazine (with a June cover date). This was a counter-culture magazine with a highly individualized editing style that did not fit the standards of a major publishing company. It focused primarily on foreign SF, B-movies, trashy music, weird comics, and even crime fiction. Naturally, it attracted the type of reader that was destined to become an anime fan.

OUT’s now-legendary June 1977 Yamato issue was an instant sell-out that started the Yamato boom of the first movie, and set a standard for the mainstream anime magazines that followed. (Read all about it here.)

A 1978 OUT spinoff magazine called Rendezvous was the first to develop the ‘film story,’ in which stills were strung together with narration, something that fans could previously acquire only by planting a camera in front of a TV screen while their favorite anime was on. The format was adopted as a standard in anime publishing and soon lead the way to anime comics.

The year following the first Yamato boom brought new interest to so many diverse topics that an anime speciality magazine was required to meet the demand. The first issues of Animage accomplished the task in style with handsome artwork, stills and drawings, interviews, reports from recording studios and production companies (leading, of course, with news of Farewell to Yamato), posters and pinups, bonus items, product announcements, and more. The magazine even became a focal point for the organization of events that tied in with new movies and shows. It was every fan’s dream come true.

By 1982, Animage had been joined by Animedia, The Anime, and My Anime. OUT had evolved to an all-anime format, and a lesser-known magazine called Animec began with the intention of feeding the hardcore maniacs. It soon took on a more respectable role as an opinion leader. Meanwhile, fanzines continued to thrive and expand far beyond their original scope, proving that not even six monthly magazines were enough to meet the demand.

One thought on “I Love Anime! A Memoir

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *