Mecha Designer Junichiro Tamamori interview, July 2018

For Yamato 2199 and Yamato 2202, it was Junichiro Tamamori who took charge of the mechanical design for the Earth Federation. Mr. Tamamori, who has continued to love and study Yamato from his childhood, shares his thoughts about Andromeda and the Cosmo Tiger II.

Published in Star Blazers/Yamato magazine issue 0, July 2018

Space Battleship Yamato: a different kind of anime

Interviewer: Please tell me about your first encounter with Space Battleship Yamato.

Tamamori: I was in the lower grades of elementary school. I already liked robots and tokusatsu heroes, but with Yamato I got the impression that, “This is a slightly different anime…different from manga.” There was a battleship with a rocket nozzle behind it, and it was cool. I think the first time I saw it was at the floating continent [Episode 5]. I continued watching it afterward, but besides the mecha the worldview was also attractive.

I liked the map, because the Japanese islands appeared on the red Earth. I thought, “Oh, there’s Okinawa, where I live.” Also, I made my own Planet Bomb using a globe. I attached a flashlight to the globe and dropped it, and it fell like a Planet Bomb, and I was able to reproduce the way the light spread out. It was a beautiful picture, but a lot of people died in the shadows. When I heard the woman’s singing voice, the image of a “funeral in space” flowed with it. The goddess-like image of Starsha appeared in space, and I felt a strange wonder amid this grim sensibility. My feelings were shaken in various ways.

The drama was also attractive. Would Kodai and Yuki take a commemorative photo in the rear observation dome? I liked that scene. It was like the world of older brothers and sisters, how a man and woman look before they get married.

And the scene where Mamoru Kodai goes back to Starsha on Iscandar. When they hugged each other, I felt embarrassed, as if I was looking into the adult world. I’m still impressed by the image of Mamoru Kodai’s hat falling lightly onto the ramp.

The first series had monster-like episodes that gave me a thrill, with the Balanodon and the bee people of Planet Beemera. This overlaps with what I already said, but there were the Planet Bombs, the graveyard of Iscandar, the ruins of Planet Gamilas, Captain Okita’s “death image,” the return of Yamamoto’s plane before the warp, Kodai and Yuki’s commemorative photo, Mamoru Kodai deciding to stay with Starsha on Iscandar…there was something in all of that, a “hope to live for” that resonated with a child’s mind.

I realized later that I was doing this precise kind of world-building, so I think that was different, a special anime for me.

Interviewer: You kept following it even as a teenager, right?

Tamamori: That’s right. Farewell to Yamato was released in 1978 and caused a boom. At that time, my sister’s friend came to the house to play, and she had the first issue of Animage. I borrowed it, and there was design art for Andromeda. Before then, I had only seen Yamato on TV, and it was the first time I saw a design drawing in print. There was a new work of Yamato, and there would be a new battleship. It had a sharp, modern, square shape, and I got a shock with a sense of the future. “What is this!”

After that, I got some money as a New Year’s gift and bought the Farewell to Yamato Encyclopedia from Keibunsha. That book was just a constant, “Great, great, great!” A year later, I saw Farewell for the first time on TV. I’d seen Andromeda and the Cosmo Tiger II (in the book) and now I was entering that design world.

Even if the shape changes, preserving Yamato without making it average is vital

Interviewer: Then I’ll ask you about design. You took charge of mecha design continuously from Yamato 2199, and it seems that the expression of Yamato in 2202 is different.

Tamamori: Basically, design is expressed in a drawing, and a solid picture is secondary. I made a drawing, and the 3D side is responsible for making a 3D model. Yamato looks different in 2199 and 2202 because it is designed according to each concept, and I dare to make differences.

Interviewer: Even in the original works, the designs for Yamato were redrawn. Were you conscious of that?

Tamamori: Yamato has changed according to the times, depending on how it is depicted in the story and the expression in the drawing. And they are all Yamato. Therefore, it’s natural that everyone imagines Yamato differently. You have to be careful with it. However, there are several vital points and it shouldn’t just end up as the greatest common denominator. Therefore, by exploring two or three different designs, I decided, “We’ll go with this for 2199.” And then if there was a next time, we could make the Wave-Motion Gun slightly larger and make the nozzles a bit thicker…that’s what I thought at the time.

Interviewer: And 2202 started.

Tamamori: When it got to 2202 and Director Nobuyoshi Habara, we exchanged opinions about wanting to change Yamato a little. I talked with Assistant Director Makoto Kobayashi, and we immediately came up with specific points to fix. In making a different series, I think it’s difficult for it to correspond to one fixed Yamato image. Something like, “It’s slightly different, but the impression has the same result.” I think in a direction that is non-linear.

I digress, but in the first internal illustration for the first series in 1974, the “mouth” of the Wave-Motion Gun was a “hole.” As the “Wave-Motion Gun hole” grew later, it gained the character of a “mouth.” We could conclude that one of the characteristics of the first work was to have a small hole, and there is some corroboration.

Interviewer: Have you been studying that all this time?

Tamamori: I think it’s the same for all the creators involved in Yamato. We’ve been thinking about it for decades. Therefore, I had a common language with the staff when we met for the first time. It’s not quite like that on other works.

Original Andromeda design by Kazutaka Miyatake/Studio Nue, 1978

Readiness to face the presentation of Andromeda properly

Interviewer: Next to Yamato, I would like to ask you about Andromeda.

Tamamori: The Yamato series is a world founded on the achievements of past creators. In light of that, I prepared for drawing Andromeda in 2202 by saying, “We have to face up to this properly.”

Interviewer: A lot of fans have a special love for Andromeda.

Tamamori: That’s right. As opposed to that level of activity in Yamato 2, it was treated a bit harshly in Farewell. (Laughs). Since it was sunk, there are also those who felt that was good, too.

I previously answered this in another interview, but Andromeda has a goddess image. It projects a modern interpretation of Eros (impulse to life) and Thanatos (impulse of death) from Ancient Greece. Considering it from a contemporary Freudian psychological viewpoint, I think the dual nature of the impulse to life and the impulse to death is inherent in its weapons. You can find both in the thrill of the hidden power of guns and tanks. Life and death are right next to each other, and if you have the feeling of, “I don’t want to die!” it leads to the power of living. Would you call this a wild thought?

The essence of human beings can’t be captured…it’s a primitive contradiction that can’t be explained with reason, but when it comes to beautifully expressing human nature and summarizing it, I think Andromeda is more symbolic than Yamato in that sense. I think how we deal with that contradiction will continue to be an issue in modern society.

Interviewer: What kind of effort and ingenuity did you put into the design?

Tamamori: In facing up to Andromeda, the answer it led to came not just from the past designs by Kazutaka Miyatake, but after considering how Andromeda moved in Farewell and played and active role in Yamato 2. That made it possible to get into a good mindset.

The design drawings from those days were done for animation, not to make something three-dimensional, it was an image described to be deformed. For example, in the expression of overlapping wings and torso, the wings are shifted and it seems like the bridge is being swept backward. That’s a good representation of this feature. The Wave-Motion muzzle, which looks like sunglasses, is also a vertical face on the drawing, and when I decided to incline the front face of the guns, the atmosphere of the design image came out.

I also examined the design from about 20 years ago for the renewed Andromeda in the Farewell to Yamato Playstation game (Bandai), and in the rear pass the entire bow was narrowed down to the front. I read that as something Mr. Miyatake wanted to say there, that the Wave-Motion Gun isn’t straight since it narrows down in the front. After we’d had it slightly inflated in the front, we thought about narrowing it forward.

Playstation redesign by Kazutaka Miyatake, 1999

Adopting a Coke bottle-like line in the 2202 Andromeda

Interviewer: You changed the face, didn’t you?

Tamamori: If you look at common mecha designs such as robots, it’s cool when the overall proportion is emphasized, and it’s pleasing. In the case of a ship, the way you apply curved surfaces becomes very important. So I thought, “design it like a face.”

When I had drawn Andromeda illustrations as a hobby, I didn’t make that connection anywhere. The front part of the Wave-Motion Gun is hexagonal, and the rear of the hull is rounded. The line work doesn’t explain how that happens, so it can differ considerably depending on how you interpret it. I applied automobile design to it this time. Automotive design makes something that looks very smart in limited dimensions, and devises something thick and sturdy. Even if the height of the bonnet is uniform, there’s a trick to shaving a little off to make it look like a sports car.

CG render of Andromeda for Yamato 2202.

For Andromeda, I squeezed the middle of the hull, a bit like a Coke bottle. I gave it a glamorous feeling of fattening it up in the rear. You can understand it when a line of reflected light passes from front to back. I wanted the Wave-Motion Gun to have some freshness to it, not just a simple hexagon shape. If the hex plane connected to the rear just as is, you wouldn’t see a breakthrough in the design. Therefore, I rounded the sides of the gun a little. It’s an invisible line, but it connects smoothly. When the light hits it, it’s possible for that line to be a main highlight. This is another application of automobile design, near the door handle of a car. It’s the same as the part where the light swells out a little, then continues straight. I designed the surface that way and also made a 3D model myself, then handed it off to the staff for reference.

Because 2202 is a remake, I made a form with a sense of respect for the original, and I also wanted to make it a design that could be used in various ways. So you might get a sudden glimpse and say that it hasn’t changed at all, which would be just fine.

Interviewer: It hasn’t changed at all, but when I look closely it’s completely different, isn’t it?

Tamamori: I want you to pay more attention to my predecessors, to pay attention to what the creators made at the time. I didn’t invent it. As I often say about Yamato, it’s a cultural asset. I want to preserve it and utilize it well. There’s a part of it that should be protected and a part that should be utilized. So by all means, I’d like to see young people turn their eyes to the original.

The simplicity and complexity of the Cosmo Tiger II

Interviewer: After Andromeda, please tell me about the Cosmo Tiger II.

Tamamori: Although the Cosmo Tiger II of Farewell to Yamato seems to have a simple composition, I feel that it was designed with a great sense of mecha. A squarish fuselage…a nose and wings. Especially as it narrows down the center of the fuselage. This is beautiful. In the world of airplanes, this narrowing is done for air resistance. This expresses its resemblance to an airplane, and it’s necessary to follow this message properly.

Original Cosmo Tiger II design by Kazutaka Miyatake/Studio Nue, 1978.

Rather than drawing it according to the design image, I think many people are strongly impressed when it is deformed, as Yoshinori Kanada drew it. Everyone is a fan of cool Cosmo Tigers, so I was strongly conscious of how to include that action. Therefore, the nose is Kanada-style. In Miyatake’s design is thicker, narrowing at the front. This time I narrowed it a bit and gave it some swelling like a cobra. I thought a lot about whether I should do it or not, then just decided that I should.

As I said earlier, the overall shape is a complicated thing with a simple configuration. More specifically, when you see it from the side, it isn’t level. You can see a wavy flow in the design with a basic S-shape. The fuselage rises at the front, and the wing has an angle of attack. The nose is broken, and the underside is straight. On the other hand, the rear is inclined and has triangular blades that makes it look like the two corners of the rear are jumping up, so it can be seen as a “wave.” Miyatake gave it elements that brought a charm to this simple structure, and I was conscious of preserving that while also exaggerating it.

Left: CG model in standard form. Right: deformed for “Kanada style.” Read more about this process here.

Additionally, since the wings were thin, there’s a 12.7mm five-barrel machine gun which is a difference between the single-seat and triple-seat versions. As to how they’re contained in such thin wings, they’re mounted under the wings, World war II-style like on the Zero fighter, along with its legs. However, there are parts of modern fighter planes that get a bit closer to the fuselage so the legs don’t stick out, and so this had to be addressed, as well. I had to work out both of those points to draw the Cosmo Tiger II, to make sure the thinness and thickness would be logical in 3D. I managed to arrange it by using some visual tricks.

Then there is the base of the wing and the shoulder, the triangular part. There were two theories on whether it was transparent or black. On the old plastic model, it was represented with light blue clear parts, like the cockpit, and one interpretation was there would be something like a radar inside those clear parts. But when you look at Mr. Miyatake’s art, it’s mainly filled in even if it’s supposed to be transparent. Some interpret it as being painted black. So, to make it compatible we made the single-seat version transparent and the three-seat version black. The three-seat version has a greater attack performance, so the implication is that black parts increase its armor power.

Interviewer: If there are two theories, your stance is that you want to think about it.

Tamamori: Because it was a plane I had the good fortune to develop variants on it. What I design is not only for myself and it’s not just a hobby. This production is divided up among the staff, and it’s possible for a slight misjudgment to cause trouble. I’ve worked in various fields and you have to be careful about throwing things around. There is the dogma around certain kinds of decisions that you have to make for the sake of production.

When it comes to Yamato, it has continued to have an impact on me for more than forty years. There is a feeling of gratitude to the staff who created it. And fans have been growing up for decades and spending time together…like companions who fought together. This is my response to that. The generation above me has been taking care of Yamato with fan activity longer than I have, and meanwhile fans in their teens and twenties are coming up. I’d like to continue my own introspection while keeping the lives of such people in mind.

Read more interviews with Mr. Tamamori here:

Cosmo DNA interview, 2011/2012

Hobby magazines, July 2012

Otona Anime Vol. 28, March 2013

Model Graphix #352, January 2014

Hobby magazines, December 2014

Yamato 2202 interview, April 2017

Yamato 2202 interview, May 2018

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