Yamatour 2019 Travelogue, Part 3

Back up to part 2

On the morning of March 6, I practically had these big beauties all to myself,
so I got up close and personal. See my photo gallery here.

Day 7: Wednesday, March 6

Trip 7 happened shortly after trip 6. I got myself back to Tokyo in May 2012 after making a difficult decision: be there for the premiere of 2199 Chapter 1, or for the next Yamato Party? When I learned that Chapter 1 would only be two episodes (45 minutes) long, I opted for the party. And I got much more than I bargained for. Read the travelogue here.

On the morning of day 6 in theaters, the Chapter 7 merch sign is loaded with “sold out” tags and the shelves are getting bare…

Back in Tokyo, I now faced two days in which I hadn’t pre-planned every step. This luxury was due to my decision to extend beyond my usual seven days. As a result, when someone suggested doing something, or I wanted to be spontaneous, time was there for it. I’m usually the type that has to set out missions for myself, and conquering them becomes my measure of success. But there’s something to be said for taking an actual vacation within your “vacation.”

I kicked the day off with my second viewing of Yamato 2202 Chapter 7. Thanks to various conversations after the premiere, I knew a bit more about what was happening and was able to make additional connections while watching. The plot got clearer, especially the emotional beats in the final episode. This is where the entire story comes together. It’s the “here’s what we’ve learned” resolution point, and its emotional power comes through even if you don’t catch every word. All you have to know is the purpose, and you can fill it in for yourself. That said, it’s only a matter of weeks before these same episodes play out on Funimation with subtitles and it will all be on the table. But I do enjoy the experience of teasing out the meaning without the benefit of translation.

…but still nobody wants the damn slippers or tote bags. Not even me.
There’s been a marketing misfire in every round, and this one was already obvious.

For one thing, there were months of speculation leading up to this. Naturally, a lot of that speculation falls away when the actual pictures unfold in front of you. But you can also find that even if you missed the mark literally you still found some nuance that leads to a deeper interpretation. This is a different way to absorb a story, which brings you closer to it. And it’s interesting to me that the language barrier can actually enhance the experience.

Example: Sanada gives a heartfelt speech in the finale. Before knowing his exact words, I imagined what I would write for him in that speech. It was off the mark, but turned out to be equally valid. Thus, another interpretation that enhances the story on the way to full understanding. You just don’t get that from something released in your own language. And the second viewing of Sanada’s speech really got me. No actual tears, but I felt my heart getting bigger. (Caught in the act at left.)

Anton Kholodov was waiting for me in the lobby when I emerged. He’d brought his Yamato uniforms and we grabbed a rare photo op when the big ship models weren’t surrounded by gawkers. Then we reconnected with Dan and Walter for lunch. They would soon depart for their own separate leg of the trip in Kyoto, so we had one last chance to dine on the famed Maru Go tonkatsu. (Go out of your way for it. Trust me here.)

The rest of my day was a blur of “small warps” from one thing to another: a second visit to Nakano Broadway, coffee talk with my writer/collector friend Matt Alt, then a teamup with Anton and another friend, Brad Lucido. We’d first met decades earlier in the pages of an APA (the precursor to internet chat rooms) and finally connected in person at Yamatour 2017. That led to our fateful dinner at the previous location of Yakitori Yamato, where we toasted Chapter 1 and were joined by Exec Producer Shoji Nishizaki for a once-in-a-lifetime encounter. Or so we thought.

We had no idea we were on a rendezvous with destiny.

That night we returned to the new Yakitori Yamato location in Shibuya to get caught up on our lives, talk Chapter 7, and remark on how lucky we were to meet Nishizaki that night. Then my eyes locked on someone at the other end of the restaurant. And his eyes locked on mine. Then on Anton, who had walked in still wearing his Yamato uniform. It was Hirotaka Furukawa, Nishizaki’s second-in-command, who I’d met back in 2012 and had been my contact inside Voyager Entertainment’s Japan office. (Later that year he shut down the US office and cut me off, which I’m sure he remembered upon seeing me.)

Then someone else walked in to pick a table close to ours. Yep. Nishizaki. Twice in a lifetime.

Elsewhere in Shibuya that night, art from AKIRA had been blown up to
giant size and decorated the walls around a construction site.

Later I learned that this wasn’t all that unusual. It’s a restaurant owned by the owner of Yamato, so the Voyager staff pretty much uses it as their personal commissary. But the fact that we’d all ended up there on that night was pretty damn uncanny.

Of course, it was Anton’s presence that grabbed the eyeballs. A tall Russian guy in a Yamato uniform. You don’t see that every day. We wondered who should make the first move, and it turned out to be Furukawa. He approached us with a grin and said hello, remembering us by name. He re-introduced Nishizaki to us and there was a fuss with cameras around Anton. The results turned up the next day on Twitter (click to see their post), which was pretty cool. And then…done. Tensions lifted, everyone back to their corners.

Mischief managed.

I’m not gonna lie – I had some bitterness back in 2012 when the shiny object of Voyager employment was dangled in front of me and then yanked away without explanation. All my work on starblazers.com was quite brutally wiped away without so much as a thank you. I still had all the data, so I spent the next six months reconstructing it into the website you’re reading now. And I went on from there to create something better. If I’d been taken under Furukawa’s wing, I might have gotten a trinket or two out of it but my hands would have been tied in frustrating ways. As it turned out, I get to continue running Cosmo DNA as the unrestricted fan site I want it to be. Thanks, Fair Use Doctrine!

As I explained all of this to Anton and Brad, I felt the whole experience speed by in less than a minute and found no bitterness when I was done. It all ended the way it was supposed to. And here I was eating a fabulous meal in Nishizaki’s restaurant in the wake of 2202. Mischief managed.

Finally, Anton purchased a bottle of wine and had it sent to Furukawa’s table. It was delivered after we left. I like to think his response was the same: mischief managed.

Day 8: Thursday, March 7

Trip 8 was based around another movie premiere: Yamato 2199 Chapter 6 in August/September 2013. It seemed necessary to be there for the end, the way it was meant to be seen. For a while it looked like I would meet up with another gang for week 1, but then I learned that if I went for week 2 instead, I could see the CG Captain Harlock movie as a bonus. So I did. Read the travelogue here.


This was going to be a sweep day. Friday would be spent in Osaka and all sorts of things were piling up for Saturday, so this was my last chance for Tokyo improv.

It started with a return trip to the pancake restaurant from Monday morning and another taste of heaven. Then the theme of the day became “make this right.” The restaurant was in Harajuku, right off the clothing district where I’d made a bunch of purchases that had to be rectified. Out of ten items, seven were the wrong size – either too large or too small despite being labeled consistently. Anton was with me again, and explained that it was due to them coming from different Asian manufacturers without a single measurement standard. I salute you, ladies. This is what it’s been like for you all along, isn’t it?

We shot over to Akihabara, this time taking a different walking route into the neighborhood that took us through a tranquil little park tucked into a pocket between high-rises and train tracks. I’d passed it plenty of times on the JR line without even knowing it was there. Anton stays here for weeks at a time and travels by bike, so he’s made lots of discoveries like this one.

More things my camera saw in Akihabara: an ad for the new 2202 art book and another guy from work.

I won’t bore you with details from here, but I bought anime T-shirts that ALSO turned out to be the wrong size, so I had to bring them back later this same day for exchange. Then there was another dip into Jimbocho for a book I’d noticed Monday. All this happened in cold, pouring rain. When I finally got back to home base in Shinjuku, it was bucketing down despite a forecast that said it would clear up. It would take until the next morning for my shoes to fully dry.

Yamatopalooza at the Yodobashi plamo department.

And then…

The very best part of the day, and probably the entire trip: dinner with Nobuyoshi Habara, the director of Yamato 2202. Joining us was translator and voice talent Rina Lee. The three of us first met in 2012 when Mr. Furukawa arranged a sit-down interview. Back then, Habara was directing two episodes of 2199. If you read that interview (here), you may remember that I asked him what he’d like to do next. He answered immediately: “White Comet Empire!” Seven years later, he had just finished it.

Two of my favorite faces: Nobuyoshi Habara and Rina Lee.

We sat down for a sushi feast and he happily answered every question I had to throw at him. Without further ado, here’s what we covered…

His daily work on the series had concluded about a month earlier, on February 4. Since then, he’s been participating in promotional events like stage greetings for the preview and opening weekend. He was about to visit out-of-town theaters to do more for the second weekend. He’d actually had a bike accident the day of the preview and gave the greeting that night in serious pain. The next day he got an X-ray that revealed three cracked ribs. Yikes.

The day before our dinner, the news had been announced that Xebec Studio (where he’s the president) had been bought by Sunrise and renamed Sunrise Beyond. His staff is still there, but now they have new ownership and will be taking on new anime. One may turn out to be a Gundam project, and if so Habara himself may be tapped to direct. (This hasn’t been decided yet, so be cool and don’t go saying it has, kay?)

This means he won’t be working on the next Yamato project, and it will be done at a different studio. He was invited to direct Yamato again, but turned it down since 2202 darn near killed him. He said that making it with his close friends was the experience of a lifetime, but it made the finished product no fun to watch because all suspense had been removed. He couldn’t see it as a fan. Now he wants to be one of us again and enjoy watching the next one. Super props for that.

The next Yamato project is now in development with Harutoshi Fukui returning as the head writer, and Habara believes that a director has been chosen. But no confirmation yet. As for story content, he said that one of his conditions for taking on 2202 was that it set the stage for The New Voyage. What that actually means is anyone’s guess since literally any voyage the ship goes on from here will be new. But if they choose to honor his condition we may be seeing something akin to the Dark Nebula Empire war after all. TBD.

His relationship with Fukui is tight due to all the work they did together, especially when traveling to cities outside Tokyo for stage greetings. These overnights and weekends became mini-vacations where they both got a much needed jolt from the audience. He has been close friends with Assistant Director Makoto Kobayashi for many years, describing him as intense and sensitive, easily misunderstood and apprehensive about connecting with others. Habara thinks of him as a modern Van Gogh, a difficult genius.

When I asked how the story evolved since the beginning, he said that it stayed very close to Fukui’s original vision. The only changes were minor; a scene added here, some line changes there, etc. Most of the labor (as revealed in various interviews) came from wrestling the broad concepts into shape and giving them that special Yamato flavor. He praised Fukui as an inexhaustible source of ideas, and pointed out that he is the first to have written for both Gundam and Yamato. If things go as Habara hopes, he will be the first to follow suit in a directing capacity.

Yes, I was actually there.

Next, I asked him about merchandising. Specifically, why the drop in model kits compared to 2199? Simply put, Bandai overproduced on the previous show and sales weren’t as strong as they’d hoped. I asked if it was the same on the book-publishing side, but he didn’t know. That reminded me of how interesting it’s been to watch this phenom from a marketing point of view. Two series with identical length and release patterns. This allows us to recognize the results of the first campaign by seeing what was left out of the second. Just like you can tell after a few days which movie merch people didn’t want. Clear files? Gone. Slippers and tote bags? Untouched. As for future products, he believes the novelization will continue to seven volumes and Michio Murakawa will probably return to finish the 2199 manga. (Which would be a good thing, since Dark Horse will be publishing it this year in English.)

That was it for big questions. I had a few small ones about onscreen action. Some of them have spoiler content, so they’re on a different page. Click here to read them and then come on back.

The restaurant was close to the Shinjuku Piccadilly theater, so I suggested we stop for a photo op. Habara said “YEAH!!!” Since my visit the day before, they’d added a sign board to promote the Yamato 2202 OUT magazine.

Before we left, Habara told me that if I got my camera RIGHT UP to Andromeda’s bridge, I could see some hidden detail. And he was RIGHT!

Continue to the final part

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