Leiji Matsumoto’s Dai Yamato Zero-Go

“Dai” is the Japanese word for “Big.” The kanji character looks something like a starfish.
You can see it at the head of the logo and over the Wave-Motion gun.

Unable to continue his ambitious plans for Great Yamato after a copyright shift in March 2002, Leiji Matsumoto got right to work on his next attempt to breathe life into Japan’s most famous SF saga. Radically redesigning the ship (seemingly with parts from his other ships, most notably Captain Harlock’s Arcadia), Matsumoto staffed it with a completely new crew starting with modified versions of his Great Yamato characters. Direct links to the original Space Battleship Yamato continuity were carefully laundered out with name and design changes.

Yamato as a name for a ship could not be copyrighted, as Matsumoto himself learned when he joined the staff of Space Battleship Yamato in 1974; coincidentally, he had bestowed the exact same name on a rocketship in his 1961 manga, Lightning Ozma. Now he could turn the same rule around to his own benefit.

So with a newly-tailored story (still set in the year 3199) and his partnership with Venture Soft still intact, he commenced work on Dai Yamato Zero-Go. What made this story different is that it didn’t start out as a manga. It would go straight to animation…by way of your local pachinko parlor.

Dai Yamato‘s debut was in the form of a pachinko slot machine game released by the Sankyo Corporation in December 2002. Judging by the sheer amount of media attention and merchandising, the game was a major hit and started a campaign that stretched over the next three years. The anime arrived on home video in 2004, but was practically an afterthought amid the pachinko blitz. This put Dai Yamato on two separate tracks with very different outcomes.

In the meantime, a surprising amount of merchandising swept through Japan as Dai Yamato captured the eyeballs of pachinko players all over the country. Here is a record of the onslaught…

Dai Yamato Fever

Pachinko is Japan’s national obsession, having come a long way over the centuries. Today’s pachinko slot games (or ‘Pachislo’ in the local tongue) are now intensely noisy and complex multi-dimensional audio/visual experiences with arcane rules and labyrinthine storylines. If you could combine an anime program with pinball and a video arcade game, you’d be in the ballpark. And if there’s any place noisier than the city of Tokyo, it’s a pachislo parlor in the city of Tokyo.

‘Fever’ is a common modifier for a game title (not unlike the word ‘Nation’ or ‘Trance’ for a music album), and Dai Yamato Fever was the first major strike in a multi-year assault that would bring this new story to an eager public.

Developed by Sankyo to replace the relatively tame slot machine, it rolled into pachislo parlors in March 2003 with animation produced by Venture Soft to tell a story created by Leiji Matsumoto. The deeper you got into the gameplay, the more the story would unfold. The precise content and nature of that story would stay within the confines of the game for its first year.

High-profile pachislo games are usually accompanied by a media package. In this case, Dai Yamato Fever had a promotional pamphlet that came with a booklet, art cards, and game tips for the prospective player.

A set of cigarette lighters was also sold in addition to a home version for the PlayStation 2, released the same day the pachislo game premiered and inexplicably renamed Dai Yamato Fever 7. And this was only the beginning.

Dai Yamato Fever 2

Exactly a year after everyone caught Dai Yamato Fever, they could enjoy a relapse when Dai Yamato Fever 2 hit the pachislo parlors in March 2004. The faceplate and gameplay had been modified, new animation had been produced, and the voyage continued. Shown above right is a poster for the game.

Fever 2 had a mini-merchandising campaign of its own, which placed the main character (named Oki) on a variety of trinkets shown above. Japanese graphic designers are usually top notch, but the widespread use of a character in such a disapproving pose was ill-advised.

…or could it simply be that Oki just disapproves of smoking?

A CD soundtrack with a new version of the Yamato theme (above left) and guidebook (above right) was also released by Sankyo. As one might expect, a thriving pachislo industry leads to an equally thriving world of “how-to-play-it” books and videos (below).

Dai Yamato Evolution was a campaign that commenced a year later, in March 2005. Exactly what it entailed is somewhat of a mystery, but it was probably a third-generation pachislo game with new bells and whistles. So far its only visible evidence is this guidebook (above left) and jigsaw puzzle (above right). By this time, the Dai Yamato anime series was off and running…into problems of its own. So that’s where we’ll go next.

Dai Yamato Zero-Go: the Anime

Released in the spring and summer of 2004, the first three volumes each clocked in at about 45 minutes and finally achieved Leiji Matsumoto’s heartfelt desire to bring Yamato back to animation. The premise was as follows:

In the year 3199, the Earth exists as it always has, returning to stability after overcoming a number of world-shaking events. Humanity appears to have taken a step back from its forward progression as well. However, the Seven Star Clan is steadily conquering the worlds of the Amanogawa Galaxy (known to us as the Milky Way). To counter them, a special Amanogawa-Galactic Fleet is assembled, but its tens of thousands of ships is annihilated by the overwhelming might of the Seven Star Clan, leaving only six vessels operational.

At this time, the Terrans have learned to live in harmony with their environment, and have created extensive subterranean cities. Each of these holds their own unique identity and set of beliefs, traditions and customs that set them apart from their sister cities. The crew that boards Dai Yamato comes with their own localized perspectives and traditions to protect the A-Galaxy from the Seven Star Clan. The only reason Dai Yamato and her crew are allowed to join the fleet is to even the playing field against the enemy. Amongst the Fleet, Dai Yamato is known as “the old wreck,” and nobody has high expectations for the warship. And the nightmare days have just begun! The Metanoid Rakken, a 20km long vessel from the constellation Draco, is coming to destroy entire planets by extracting magma to further its own existence.

The A-Galaxy depends completely upon the Rigel Fleet as they head into battle. As the Dai Yamato evolves, its secret is slowly revealed to its Captain and crew. Ozma’s decision, Oki’s bravery and Igua’s wisdom will unite as they prepare to engage the enemy fleet.

Between the release of Volumes 2 and 3 (which were only available on Region 2 DVDs from the Venture Soft website), the issue of Space Battleship Yamato copyright was finally settled in May 2004. Leiji Matsumoto was awarded limited visual rights, Yoshinobu Nishizaki was awarded rights to the original story, and Tohokushinsa Film Corp. maintained its position as the master rights holder of Yamato products (making them a de facto participant in any new project).

The good news for Matsumoto was that he could continue making Dai Yamato. The bad news was that despite the success of the games, the DVDs did not do well. Five were planned, but sales of the first three were disappointingly low and eventually forced Venture Soft into bankruptcy. Another company named Godship, Ltd. picked up where they left off, releasing a box set of all five volumes in 2007. This created a gap of three years after the release of volume 3; volumes 4 and 5 were never released individually.

View a gallery of anime character art here and anime mecha art here.

The dual presence of pachislo games and anime DVDs created plenty of merchandising opportunities, which lead to a range of products that ran the gamut from clever to mystifying. If you liked Dai Yamato enough to adorn your body with it, you had some options. The first was a pendant featuring the Dai Yamato emblem (which looked suspiciously like a Great Yamato emblem) and a set of cloissone pins to commemorate Leiji Matsumoto’s 50th year as a professional artist in 2004.

Paper modeling has been a pastime in Japan for many years, as evidenced by the earlier publication of Space Battleship Yamato papercraft books (among others) in previous years. Venture Soft published two Dai Yamato packs, one for the Space Zero fighter and another for the Zero-Go itself. The website daiyamato-zerogo.com was once the source for DVD orders, but is no longer active.

The disc shown above left is a genuine oddity, a lenticular image printed on what could either be a Frisbee or a hand-fan. And speaking of fans (how’s that for a transition?), there were enough Dai Yamato fans to produce at least two doujinshi, as shown above right.

And whereas some fans publish their own comics, others are born to scratch-build models of whatever captures their favor. Shown above is a lavish attempt, created by heavily modifying a 1/500 Bandai model kit. Leiji Matsumoto essentially did the same thing, just not with plastic. See more photos here.

Here’s a set of three postcards that wouldn’t ordinarily be a point of interest except that the logo has changed to delete the name Yamato altogether. What this actually represents is still an unsolved mystery.

Among the tamer entries were a beach towel (above left) and matching Zippo lighter (above right) to set the towel ablaze if circumstances called for it. Incidentally, the kanji characters on the back of the lighter read “Yamato Car Inspection.” And you can bet there’s a story behind it…

It starts with a name: Yamato Shaken. The logo is seen in the ad at left, beneath the girl. “Shaken” isn’t pronounced the English way, it’s a pair of kanji characters pronounced Shah-ken and they translate to “Car Inspection.” Yamato Shaken was a chain of auto maintenance shops run by a larger company called Car Conveni[ence] Club. (“Carcon” for short; their website is here.) A garage named Yamato and a multimedia project called Dai Yamato took one look at each other and knew it was much more than a hunch.

This may not be the only anime tie-in with an auto repair chain, but it certainly was the most productive. Starting in 2002, drivers in Japan could get their car fixed in Dai Yamato style and, while they were waiting, browse a lineup of exclusive Dai Yamato products to fill up the bag shown above. Here’s a look at what this unique relationship produced…

As a customer driving in to Yamato Shaken, you’d look for the billboard image shown above and a big Dai Yamato display model, about a meter long, rotating on a pillar.

The main body of the model was injection-molded in a single large piece for durability, but a surprising amount of detail was added to the upper half; an unusual measure of attention given that it would be essentially hidden from street view. Also, based on these photos, there was some color variation from station to station.

Upon arrival, customers were greeted by technicians wearing these flashy “Pit Crew” coveralls. They didn’t actually match what was seen in the anime, but they would have fit right in.

A set of cloths and towels was on offer inside, various shapes and colors to choose from…

A cigarette lighter was an easy thing to customize, so that was available too. And then there was the toy airplane.

Of course. An airplane. Specifically, a diecast B-767 Skymark decorated with a Dai Yamato website banner. Because, well, it made sense to someone. The Yamato Shaken tie-in campaign ended prior to 2005 when the chain was rebranded as “Car Conveni Club.”

Dai Yamato enjoyed a longer and more colorful life than Great Yamato, but it came to almost the same unhappy ending. As reported here, the pesky copyright issues came to a head again in December 2008 and were settled in favor of Tohokushinsha Film Corp. with Dai Yamato on the losing side. The games were already long-gone from pachinko parlors by that time, and the DVD series was still struggling with tepid sales. Even if no further issues had come up, it was likely that Dai Yamato‘s fate had already been sealed.

But as this track record plainly demonstrates, the energy surrounding a new take on the old classic is still a force to be reckoned with.

The End

Dai Yamato on the Web:

Faux-opening title (mashup)

Homepage for Dai Yamato Zero-Go

Dai Yamato Zero-Go DVD box set promo

2008 report on lawsuit settlement

7 thoughts on “Leiji Matsumoto’s Dai Yamato Zero-Go

  1. So did these OAV ever get translated? Even as little-known title as 2520 has an English subs, and this is strange if Dai Yamato, with it much better quality and nice drawing, didn’t recieve any attention.

    • It has to be appealing and also accessible to a fan group in order to get a fan sub. Dai Yamato is not easy to get, since it went out of print pretty quickly. (And, to be honest, not very appealing once you start watching it.)

  2. I have found a Japanese release of this anime published 7 years ago. Decent quality, too but no translation anywhere. Seems like it has been lost forever.

  3. I would love to watch an Official Release of “Dai Yamato Zero Gou” but with English Subtitles, good or bad i would still love to watch it! But as has already been mentions finding any kind of copies of it are near on impossible to find, let alone copies that are where the quality of them are watchable even if that is just in Japanese so you could just get a sneak peek of what the actual show was like! But i seriously doubt that “Dai Yamato Zero Gou” will ever get any kind of Official Release let alone a Release with English Subtitles!

  4. I think the “Dai Yamato Fever 7” is actually called “Fever7”, and that is the game’s name, and the game is a “CR Fever 2 in 1” that include “CR FEVER DAIYAMATO” and “CR FEVER Lucky Bell”. At the back of the disk’s case, it says “include total 6 models in 2 series”(kinda like that, I don’t know if is accurate enouth, please forgive my poor English and Japanese. Orz).
    I bought this game for ¥29-5(The shopping website gave me a discount of ¥5) with ¥12 shipping(CN¥ or RMB, 36 RMB is roughly about 5 USD). When I run it with pcsx2, I figured out that I just don’t know how to play Pachinko……(╯=Д=)╯︵ ┻━┻
    But at least I can understand there is two series of game machine you can choose, so I think this game is actually called “Fever 7″(there’s just “FEVER7” at the side of the case), and the game of Dai Yamato didn’t changed it’s name._(:3」∠)_

    And just for fun:
    When you read “大ヤマト” in Japanese it pronounce as “Dai Yamato” witch is fine, even if you write it all in kanji there will be two “大”. But I’m Chinese so when I read it, it must be all in kanji cause we only use Chinese characters, at this time it pronounce will be “dà dà hé”, just imagine read it as “Ya Yamato”(I don’t know if it’s accurate cause my poor Japanese).
    We do have Pinyin, but we just use it as a tool to help learning Chinese characters, so we can’t use it like Kana in Japanese when translate the name into Chinese, and even use Pinyin what so ever, the pronunciation will just be the same, otherwise people will think it’s some different Chinese character such as “带” instead “大” at the first time, even “大” actually can be pronounce like “dài” witch is almost the same pronunciation of the original Japanese name. (For example, if you are calling a doctor “大夫” instead of “医生”, that “大” will pronounce as “dài”) Unless we use Pinyin and Chinese Characters at the same time —— that will be accurate enough, but that will be very inconvenient to input and looks like something for children or Chinese beginners to read.
    So when the “大ヤマト” came into Chinese, I will be “大大和”, the name reminds me of a brand of bubble gum witch called “大大”(╯°口°)╯︵┴—┴
    So I usually call it “大压码头” when discuss this ship, “压码头”(yā mǎ tóu) is my personal transliteration for “ヤマト”, to me it’s like a nickname of the ship, it literally means “press/push down the wharf” (and the “大” still means big).XD

    • Thank you for all that interesting information! If you are ever interested in writing an article about the impact of Yamato and anime in China, I am happy to work with you on it.

  5. I do not know if you read this comment, but I want to thank all the information that this blog has given me, I am a Latin American fan and my language is Spanish, and if it is difficult for you to get these ovas or manga in English, in my language it is almost impossible to find these works, so I appreciate all the work of the authors of this blog, and I hope they continue to do so as their contributions will help many more fans from various countries in the future, good luck

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