Books in Outer Space

The Space Battleship Yamato Library

Generally speaking, there are stages everyone passes through on their way to becoming a hardcore Yamato fan. For those not born in Japan, stage one is to fall in love with Star Blazers and then the Yamato movies. Stage two is to explore the saga in some solid-state form rather than fleeting video images, and the best way to do that is to start turning pages in a Yamato book.

The benefits are immediate; if you’re looking at a series of stills, you can study them as long as you like and relive the emotional drama of the story. Turn a few pages, and you’re amazed by the attention to detail in an animator’s model sheet–something you might have missed on the TV screen. Turn a few more pages, and it soon becomes obvious that there’s even more going on behind the scenes. You begin to recognize the faces of those who created these amazing stories and get a sense that you’re seeing just a tiny fragment of something much bigger.

Pick up a few more such books and your suspicions are quickly confirmed: Star Blazers was one thing. The massive Space Battleship Yamato phenomenon was something else entirely.

Everyone in Japan recognized this at the time it was happening, and members of the media were sharp enough to document all of it as it unfolded. Finding and stitching together their work is the foundation of this website (and others like it; find them on our Links page), and that makes the collective Yamato library a paper goldmine.

Unfortunately, information about the publishing of these many volumes is hard to come by since their purpose was never to document themselves. Unlike records and CDs, they don’t come with liner notes. So without an insider’s view into the world of Japanese publishing, examining this part of the Yamato phenom becomes a game of trends and statistics. Fortunately, these tell a story all by themselves.

For starters, there are the sheer, staggering numbers. Over a dozen different publishers pumped out nearly 100 books during the production years alone. Factor in manga and novelizations (topics covered in previous articles) and a few other forms of print media, and the number quickly doubles. (It would multiply again if fanzines were taken into account, but for our current purposes we’ll stay in the world of mass-market professional publishing.)

Then there are the interesting terms and catch-phrases (often helpfully rendered in English) that offer themselves up to help organize and classify the source material: Roman Album, Mook, Terebi, Roadshow, Keibunsha, etc. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find those names on books devoted to other anime productions. Before you know it, you’re on your way to decoding an entire industry.

Not everything in anime publishing began with Yamato, but it was certainly the engine that drove it into the modern age. As the audience grew and expanded across the social strata, publishers who had previously aimed only at the younger set quickly found themselves designing books for teenagers and adults. Naturally, production standards improved as a result. Thick-skinned “board books” with simple text for children gave way to sophisticated keepsake volumes for mature readers. Dustjackets, foldout posters, and bound-in bonuses sweetened the pot and raised the prestige.

Tracking the growth and development of anime publishing is an excellent means of tracking anime itself…with Space Battleship Yamato (as usual) leading the way.

Launching into a Crawl

As with all other aspects of Yamato, its publishing had humble beginnings. The first TV series was accompanied by the standard fare of the time, a handful of children’s books published by a division of Asahi Shimbun [Sunrise Newspaper] Publications called Asahi Sonorama. Japan has always been a land of creative wordsmithing, and this was a prime example: a combination of the Latin Sonus (sound) and Greek Horama (sight).

Asahi Sonorama had started under the name Sonopress in 1959 as the audio service of Asahi Newspaper, then evolved into Sonorama when the business expanded to include LP records and ‘Sonosheet’ flexi-discs. This went hand-in-hand with the birth of anime in the 1960s, and made Sonorama an industry leader in the merchandising of children’s books and records. So when Producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki went looking for licensing partners in 1974, Sonorama was front and center.

This gave Sonorama an effective monopoly on Yamato publications, which they held for the length of its first run on TV. Unfortunately, they didn’t make terribly great strides with it. Other than 3 manga volumes drawn by Akira Hio and a 2-part novelization written by Arashi Isuzu, they published a grand total of 2 children’s books and a single Sonosheet (all shown above). Ironically, these early products are now prized by collectors for how peculiar and unique they would become over subsequent years.

Asahi’s first competition popped up almost a year later, and then almost by accident. Leiji Matsumoto, well-known as Yamato‘s MVP, had long been under contract with manga & magazine publisher Akita Shoten, and it was in the summer of 1975 when his Yamato manga from Akita’s Adventure King magazine was collected into a single paperback volume. It wasn’t much, but it was a start.

1976 came and went with very little movement. Sonorama reissued their manga and collected their novelizations into a single paperback. A new side-story manga by Matsumoto (titled Eternal Story of Jura) appeared in Akita Shoten’s Playcomic magazine. Nishizaki was hoping for a comeback, but the stars had not yet aligned. 1977 was coming, though, and with it a whole new lease on life.

Leaving the Cradle

In terms of publishing, the 1977 runup to the first Yamato movie was like a spark making its way up the fuse toward a stick of dynamite. That spark was lit after two solid years of work by a small group of fans who had unknowingly set new standards with an impressive lineup of fanzines and guidebooks with content culled from material they’d obtained from Academy studio. (Read their story here.) This positioned them to create the first substantial magazine coverage for the TV series, published in issue 2 of OUT magazine by paper company Minori Shobo. It was an instant sellout, the fans were re-hired for followup issues, and by the end of the year they’d set the stage for the world of anime specialty magazines.

Sonorama brought out a trilogy of novelizations that hewed much closer to the anime than their previous efforts, and Office Academy produced a movie program book that was the equal of anything in the world of live-action film. But the true turning point was reached when publishing giant Tokuma Shoten got into the game and made Space Battleship Yamato the subject of their very first Roman Album.

Tokuma Shoten’s first four Roman Albums: Yamato, Cyborg 009, Rainbow Sentai Robin, and Devilman.

Like ‘Jello’ or ‘Kleenex,’ ‘Roman Album’ has become something of a catchall term for books about anime, and with good reason. Taking their cues from OUT magazine, Tokuma Shoten’s book designers identified the three basic components of anime coverage: photostory, design work, and production notes. This was refined over the first few Roman Albums and set all the standards we live with today. Incidentally, ‘Roman’ in this case has nothing to do with the city of Rome. It is instead an example of Japanese wordsmithing. Rather than RO-man, it’s pronouced ro-MAHN, a shortened form of ‘Romance’ or ‘Romantic.’ That word appears throughout the Yamato canon and in most cases is synoymous with ‘adventure.’ Yamato itself amplified the concept with the term Adventure Roman.

Even now, it’s hard to underestimate the importance of the Roman Albums in anime publishing history. They were the next logical step after the achievements of the fan clubs, they gave Yamato a mainstream presence in bookstores everywhere, and they were instant sellers, requiring Tokuma Shoten to go back to press six times in the first month alone. For all intents and purposes, this was the birth of modern anime publishing.

Seeing this, Akita Shoten set off its own stick of dynamite with their Space Cruiser Yamato ‘TV Mook’ as 1977 came to a close. This was yet another mashup term, combining Magazine and Book, that is still widely used today. (In fact, ‘Mook’ is a more appropriate general term than ‘Roman Album,’ since it was quickly adopted by other publishers.)

The Mook and the Roman Album also shared a common origin, since both began as spinoffs of magazines. Tokuma’s Terebi Land and Akita’s Terebi Magazine were both monthlies for kids, packed full of manga and coverage of their favorite programs. Before long, Yamato would come to dominate these as well.

The number of Yamato publications in 1977 wasn’t huge, just 6 dedicated books and some magazine coverage, but what they signaled was unmistakable: anime publishing was no longer kid stuff.

The three major TV magazines of the late 70s: Terebi Magazine (Akita Shoten), Terebi Kun (Shogakukan)
Terebi Land (Tokuma Shoten). “Terebi” is short for “television,” the Japanese version of “TV”

Running to Catch Up

Like an explosive chain reaction, everything multiplied when Yoshinobu Nishizaki announced the coming of the sequel, Farewell to Yamato (or Arrivederci Yamato as it was called at the time). As 1978 unfolded, big plans solidified on multiple fronts. Office Academy fired the first shot, rolling out the Yamato fan club magazine in February and causing many a jaw to drop with the revolutionary Yamato ‘Silver Book’ set in June. In a flash, they had elevated the standards yet again and would prove to be a tough act to follow.

Tokuma Shoten was the first to answer when they premiered Animage in July, considered by many even now as the finest anime specialty magazine on the market. Tokuma’s other major hit that year was the Farewell to Yamato Roman Album, already #11 in the ongoing series. Sonorama was still in the game with new manga by Akira Hio, Sonosheet books for the kids, novelizations and a handsome blueprint set for older fans. Akita Shoten was also punching away with new Leiji Matsumoto manga in Adventure King and major coverage in Terebi Magazine. This culminated in a Terebi special for Farewell, which was essentially Akita’s answer to the Roman Album.

Terebi Magazine “Mooks” published by Akita Shoten

The other big news was the arrival of two more giants. Shueisha Publishing Co. had started out as a division of Shogakukan all the way back in 1925, but split off a year later and eventually struck gold in the weekly manga format with their ‘Jump’ line (Shonen Jump, Young Jump, Business Jump, etc.) and practically owned the mainstream magazine industry with such titles as Margaret, Playboy, and Roadshow. They burst on the scene with no less than 8 Yamato novelizations and a Roadshow special devoted to Farewell.

Top row: Yamato Roadshow specials from Shueisha, 1978-1983.
Bottom row: an issue of
Roadshow magazine and other Roadshow specials.

The other giant was Shogakukan itself, an even bigger manga publisher than Shueisha and as mainstream as they come. They’d had previous (though tenuous) contact with Yamato back in 1974, when they published serialized novellas of the TV story in monthly children’s magazines, including one illustrated by Leiji Matsumoto (see it here). Their participation was still comparatively meager in 1978, a single slim children’s book, but the fact that such a major player wanted a piece of the pie was more proof of genuine success.

General magazine coverage skyrocketed in 1978 as practically everyone was racing to tell the story of the “surprise” Yamato phenomenon, and it certainly didn’t hurt that the movie itself became the biggest blockbuster in Japanese cinema history. The saga had gone from a near-death experience to an unstoppable juggernaut in four years.

To Infinity and Beyond

As the world of Yamato broadened with new stories, the worlds of anime and anime publishing grew exponentially as well. Everyone who had staked their claim to some Yamato turf in 1978 strengthened it in 1979.

Shueisha, Sonorama, Tokuma Shoten and Akita Shoten did more of what they were already doing with manga, novelizations, and various specials linked to magazine titles. Shogakukan continued its line of children’s books and rolled out two Yamato 2 specials via their own magazine Terebi-Kun (which roughly translates to ‘Dear TV’). Office Academy raised the quality bar ever higher with a hardcover devoted to Farewell and began working on an even better one for The New Voyage.

As crowded as the field was, there was still room for another giant to muscle in. If Shogakukan could be said to be the father of Japanese publishing, then Kodansha was the grandfather, dating all the way back to 1909. Among its many subsidiaries was/is the Kobunsha group, which (among other things) published a long-running line of small-format paperbacks as thick as dictionaries titled ‘Keibunsha Encyclopedias.’ They devoted three of these (which now number well over a thousand) to Yamato in 1979 and returned to it in following years. The complete set is shown at left.

1980 and the release of Be Forever saw the peak of all this activity, as a handful of smaller publishers piled on with the giants to capitalize on what was sure to be the biggest anime event of the year. Altogether, 13 separate companies delivered over 50 publishing ‘events,’ which included magazine cover stories and special projects with Yamato content.

The youngest of these players was Leed Company, which had set up shop the same year as Yamato itself, 1974. It had (and still maintains) close ties to artist Takao Saito, who created the insanely long-lived Golgo 13 manga in the 1960s. This relationship influenced Leed’s first Yamato publication, a slender paperback in their ‘Perfect Memoir’ series (shown above), which offered a unique new feature called a Film Comic. It was exactly that, frames of a film laid out in a comic book format with narration and speech balloons.

It was the nascent form of something that would soon take the publishing world by storm. Akita Shoten was the first to jump on this and give it a fitting name: Anime Comics. Their Champion Graphics division rolled out two paperback Be Forever Anime Comics in the fall, kicking off an ongoing series and adding Yamato III Anime Comics to My Anime magazine the following February. It was only the latest in an ever-growing speciality magazine industry that had begun with Animage and now included The Anime, Animedia, Animec, and more.

The four major anime specialty magazines: Animage (Tokuma Shoten), The Anime (Kindaiega Co.),
My Anime (Akita Shoten) and Animedia (Gakken)

One Last Blowout

Despite the advent of Anime Comics, 1981 saw a reduction in Yamato activity as the various publishers suddenly found themselves with an ever-expanding world of anime to cover. The field was abruptly cut in half, leaving just six of them to carry the Yamato banner. Which was probably still a larger number than any other program at the time. Sonorama still duked it out with Shueisha to see who could publish more novelizations while Kodansha, Leed, and Tokuma Shoten chipped in with only a single book apiece. (Tokuma’s was the Yamato III Roman Album, #43 in the series.)

The entire lineup of Tokuma Shoten’s Roman Albums devoted to Yamato

1982 saw another reduction with Leed, Sonorama and Kodansha taking the year off from Yamato while Kindaieiga Co. stepped in to publish a special linked to their monthly magazine, The Anime. But it all came roaring back with Final Yamato in 1983, which turned out to be the third busiest year in Yamato publishing (1980 and 1978 were first and second). The heavy hitters from years past, Sonorama, Tokuma, Shogakukan, Kodansha, and Shueisha, were joined by a handful of others to send off the saga in style with concluding volumes of their best-known titles.

West Cape Corporation (formerly Office Academy) personally brought the curtain down with their gigantic Final Yamato Super Deluxe hardcover book and the completely unexpected Star Blazers animation comics.

Spinoff specials from The Anime (Kindaieiga Co.) and Animedia (Gakken)

The Legacy Library

The rest of the 1980s were comparatively dry, with only the Yamato Fan Club magazine and an occasional outside blip to mark the time. That began to change in 1990 when Bandai flexed its muscles in the publishing world. After about a decade of dabbling in manga and children’s books, Bandai’s B-Club magazine premiered in late 1985 and captured many eyeballs with its high-end graphics and exciting mix of anime, manga and hobby coverage.

When Bandai became Yamato‘s primary licensor in 1990, they produced an equally high-end bonus book for the first TV series LD box set and a pair of paperbacks in the ‘Entertainment Bible’ series that rounded up all the Yamato mecha designs into bite-size digests. This opened the door to new possibilities, including analyses of Yamato as a cultural and social phenomenon.

A spate of these followed over the next several years with independent publishers and writers taking their stab at framing the Yamato legacy. The movement was injected with more fuel from a wave of manga reprints and the mid-90s revivals on home video (not to mention the brief surge of Yamato 2520).

But the real revival began late 1998 when Leiji Matsumoto took up stewardship of the Yamato copyright and worked with Bandai and Tohokushinsha Film Co. to engineer a wave of products tailor-made for an audience that was hungry for just such a comeback. A line of Playstation games lead the charge, re-imagining the original story in a fresh new interactive format. A new wave of books and magazine coverage practically turned it into the second coming, making 1999 the busiest year since Final Yamato was last seen in movie theatres.

The turn of the century brought Yamato publishing into a new age with biographies on members of the creative staff, numerous retrospectives, and hobby-related tie-ins with new products.

Things aren’t quite moving at the velocity of the production years, but for a saga that’s been finished for over a quarter-century, Space Battleship Yamato still gets plenty of ink. The title of a 2005 book sums it up perfectly: Still Thriving After 30 Years.

The End

Click on these links for a complete tour of the Yamato library
TV series 1 bibliography
Farewell to Yamato bibliography
Yamato 2 bibliography
The New Voyage bibliography
Be Forever Yamato bibliography
Yamato III bibliography
Final Yamato bibliography
Legacy Years bibliography
Leiji Matsumoto bibliography
Yamato novelizations
Yamato manga and comics
Yamato anime comics
Star Blazers magazine coverage


Every Yamato book has something of its own to offer, but here are some recommended titles for anyone looking to get the most bang for the buck. Click on the links for details.

Roman Albums from Tokuma Shoten: Series 1, Yamato 2, Be Forever, Yamato III

Final Yamato Roman Album, This is Animation Vol. 2, This is Animation Vol. 4 (both from Shogakukan), Big Encyclopedia (Rapport KK)

Perfect Manuals 1 and 2 (Tokuma Shoten) and Space Battleship Yamato Chronicles (Take Shobo). Yes, this list goes to 11.

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