Yutaka Izubuchi interview, October 2018

In October 2018, Fukkan Publishing released upgraded versions of Leiji Matsumoto’s original Yamato manga in three volumes, which stretched to include a full reprint of the Yamato III manga by Matsumoto’s assistant Hiroshi Aizawa. This was enough of a connection for them to add an interview with Yamato 2199 Director Yutaka Izubuchi, who actually participated in both Yamato III and Final Yamato as a fresh-faced newcomer. Here, he discusses his earliest experiences as both a fan and a staff member.

Talking about Space Battleship Yamato

Interview by Katsunori Anzai

Yutaka Izubuchi, an ardent Yamato fan since the first TV broadcast in 1974, served as the General Director of Yamato 2199 2199. We asked him for his thoughts about Space Battleship Yamato.

Interviewer: Could you tell me about your first encounter with Yamato?

Izubuchi: By chance, I read an introductory article about the anime version in Terebi Land magazine (published by Tokuma Shoten). Unfortunately, due to reasons I forget, I missed the first episode and the first one I saw was the second episode.

Yamato’s first appearance in Terebi Land magazine, October 1974 issue

I chased the show every week, but on the last broadcast day I had to go to Miyake Island on a school trip. I didn’t want to miss it, so I bought a portable TV and watched it on the ferry deck. (Laughs) It was a black & white screen, but I managed to see the finale. Then I started to follow the Yamato series as a fan, and I joined the fan club when I was a student, and created one on my own.

Interviewer: Was Yamato still in your consciousness when you came to work in the anime industry as a mecha designer?

Izubuchi: That’s right. When I was a young man of twenty, I’d had a long relationship with some seniors in SF fandom, and was introduced to Aritsune Toyota, who had worked on Yamato from the first draft. I asked him if I could work as an assistant in coming up with images for SF concepts on the Yamato III TV series (1980-81), and while I participated without a second thought, at that time I didn’t think I’d be allowed to do design work, too.

Rough mecha designs for Yamato III

As a director on Yamato III (in collaboration with Leiji Matsumoto), Eiichi Yamamoto seemed to have the plan of starting over again, and doing things that couldn’t be done in the first series. I remember that the idea of the Galmans as related to the Gamilas was in Yamamoto’s first plot. In addition to the Galman Empire and the Bolar Commonwealth, there was also an initial concept for the United States of Zeni, but they ended up not appearing. As you can see, they were the Germans, the Soviets, and America, symbolic of World War II. It was Mr. Toyota’s idea for Yamato to launch as the sun was becoming a red giant.

At first I joined Mr. Toyota’s side on the “design concept research staff” because I was an enthusiastic fan of the original Yamato, and I actively put out ideas for designs I wanted to do. It came to me in dribs and drabs, and I found it to be really fun.

Galman Reflection Satellite Gun, Yamato III

Interviewer: What were some of the new mecha and art designs and weapons concepts that were added through your participation?

Izubuchi: I was in charge of the reflection satellite gun and a fighter (Zeaddler III), Dagon’s command saucer, and Arizona. Arizona in particular was originally going to be done by [mecha designer] Katsumi Itabashi, but I have a feeling that Yasuhito Yamaki (design production) had asked too much of him and I was allowed to do just one ship. Mr. Matsumoto also worked on the first version of Dessler’s palace, and I remember that it took two or three tries.

Since the Gamilas Empire was the basis for the mecha and art of the Galman Empire, I wanted to handle those designs. When it seemed like the design wouldn’t get done on time, I suggested they reuse old Gamilas ships. Also, Talan didn’t appear at first and I said, let’s give this one to Talan. (Laughs) However, Mr. Nishizaki pulled out an overseas art book and said, “The mecha is like this.”

Galman Zeaddler III fighter, Yamato III

I thought he was telling me to “Do this,” but I thought, “I don’t want to go the way of a rip-off” so I had a hard time rethinking the design. (Laughs) I believe this is about where the idea was brought up for something that would hide in another dimension in order to avoid being detected by Yamato’s radar and sonar system. The idea for it came out here, and it was handed off to Katsumi Itabashi. The example of a multidimensional submarine or a twin-hull, triple-deck carrier was given. Since Mr. Toyota’s SF research helped with the practicality of it, that was the basic form of it. (Laughs)

Interviewer: Do you remember having any direct exchanges with Mr. Matsumoto?

Izubuchi: I only met with Leiji Matsumoto once during the production. It was at a conference of the production staff where I got into a whirlwind of arguments with Mr. Nishizaki about “When you do and don’t wear space suit.” (Laughs)

It was a scene where the dimensional submarine is entering Gaidel’s space fortress, and the picture came up in the storyboard of a canopy-like cover on the upper hull of the submarine. Frakken seemed to be looking at the fortress from inside it, but when Mr. Nishizaki saw it he said, “What is this, why can’t he just go out without the cover?” He wanted it to be done “without a space suit.”

It seemed Mr. Nishizaki also wanted him to have a flapping cape, and since I was there as an assistant in SF research rather than fantasy, I said, “If he did that he would die. The first series was so good because it did that properly.” Then Mr. Nishizaki said, “I did that in the first series! Kodai and Shima were out on the deck.”

I retaliated with, “No, no, you said you wanted them to fight on the deck, and Noburo Ishiguro added a dome-shaped cover (aka barrier dome) to the deck.”

But Nishizaki wouldn’t be beaten. “You don’t know this, but there’s a scene where Yuki and Susumu Kodai take a ceremonial photograph, and that was in space!” And he said it with a smile. (Laughs)

I was making trouble, but there was a model of Yamato in the conference room and I pointed to the rear observation dome behind the bridge. “It’s all right, because that’s there” he said, as if we were doing a comedy routine. (Laughs)

Mr. Matsumoto came in at just that time, and since he was of the same generation as Mr. Nishizaki, he understood what he was saying. “This young guy says this, Mr. Matsumoto.” He implicitly asked for help, and Mr. Matsumoto brushed him off. “If you do that, Mr. Nishizaki, you’ll be laughed at.” Mr. Nishizaki didn’t want to let me win, but he also made some concessions and I convinced him to let Frakken wear a space suit.

But as expected, Nishizaki wasn’t finished. (Laughs) At the end of Yamato III, there’s a scene of Kodai facing Dessler in space. Before I could say anything, he barked at me, “Okay, you should keep quiet on this one.” I had to give up on that. I had a feeling I was on thin ice, so I said, “Yes, I understand.”

Mr. Nishizaki was a person you just couldn’t hate, and now it has become a good memory. (Laughs)

Interviewer: You were still a budding staff member, so your ideas weren’t necessarily adopted. Following that, you later worked on Final Yamato (1983) as a mecha designer. Were there other points where opinions on the production side differed about SF concepts and designs?

Space Battleship Arizona, Yamato III

Izubuchi: In Final Yamato, of course, there was the big problem of how to bring Captain Okita back to life (who was supposed to have died in the first series). A great, cosmic catastrophe was planned for the beginning, from an illustration in a science magazine of two galaxies colliding. However, even if galaxies collided at the speed of light, it would take 100,000 years, and it was absurd that a galaxy that hadn’t been observed in the first place would suddenly crash into ours. But if one of the galaxies invaded ours from another dimension, it would be established as an SF-style touch, and I thought it would be possible to revive Okita if he came from the Earth of a parallel world.

It was a last resort, but if another Milky Way existed in parallel and Earth had been occupied by Gamilas in that world, there would be a decaying Yamato on the red Earth there that never flew. I thought about the concept of Captain Okita living alone in that ship, and what if the interpretation was that that Captain Okita came to this galaxy from the other side of the parallel? I proposed it, but Mr. Nishizaki couldn’t understand the concept of a parallel world, so “I made a misdiagnosis” in the end. (Laughs)

[Translator’s note: he’s quoting Dr. Sado’s explanation from Final Yamato.]

However, Okita was actually restored to life after a misdiagnosis, and based on that I didn’t think he was the same person as Captain Okita from the first series. In fact, it felt close to the last scene of Farewell to Yamato. The soul of Captain Okita tells Kodai, “You still have your life,” and in response to that, Kodai is surrounded by Yuki the spirits of the dead, then they are guided in a suicide attack by Teresa, like the Bodhisattva.

This was not Okita, it was a different person than the indomitable Okita from the first series, who endured humiliation with clenched teeth and aimed for survival. Therefore, Kodai may have seen living characters among the spirits of the dead, but my interpretation was “This is clearly a delusion in Kodai’s brain, and Okita is an illusion, too.” Since he wants those around him to agree with what he’s doing, Kodai personally does this within himself in order to allow himself to do it. That’s how I make sense of it.

One of Mr. Matsumoto’s works is the Battlefield manga series, and even if you’re in a losing battle you want to fire back and be full of pride. There is also the aesthetic of someone who doesn’t win, and those who fall, and I feel that such essence was concentrated in the Captain Okita of the first Yamato.

I was a Yamato fan who got to participate on site in the production staff, then I was also granted the rare experience to oversee a remake version later, and I still see it as a privilege. I think Mr. Matsumoto, who created the visual concept, was someone who led the movement of SF visuals in Japan afterward. The gallery completely changed from before Yamato to after Yamato. You could say that Leiji meters were always drawn after Yamato. His influence was great. He’s still the charismatic person who made me strongly aware of mecha design.

Dagon’s twin saucer command ship, Yamato III

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