The Rise and Fall of Yamato 2520, Part 2

Yamato Hasshin [Launch] was the evocative title of Volume 2, which kicked the story into high gear when it did exactly that. It was released simultaneously on VHS and laserdisc in December 1995, but this time the sleeve wrapper would only commit to a volume 3. Character animation was less refined than in Volume 1, indicating a tighter budget, but the story was quite a ride…

Packard and Rikyard scour Osaka City for Nabu and his gang, but none of the other kids seem to know anything about them. In truth, the word is getting around and many are even now slipping away into the desert to join in the escape plan.

Rebuilding Yamato isn’t as hard as it sounds, since Shima knows how to reactivate a dormant shipbuilding facility out in the badlands. It’s completely automated, and since Marcy is a whiz with Salene computers, she can jumpstart the whole process. There’s even a squadron of fighters ready for the taking. The building of the 18th Yamato begins. Aga knows a lot about Monopole engines (the native technology) but another type is found in the vault that Shima recognizes instantly: Wave-Motion engines from Earth. There is disagreement on which would work better until Nabu suggests a compromise: a Wave-Motion Monopole Engine!

Elsewhere, Brone and Ameshis talk about the true stakes surrounding the previous Yamato. When it went down over Rinbos 17 years ago, it was said to be carrying an artifact of Goda, perhaps even the key to unlocking their ancient technology. For this reason, it is imperative that she recover the data disc. Meanwhile, she is proceeding with the illegal operation of digging up Monopole energy, which angers Rikyard since it is a blatant violation of the cease-fire with Earth. It becomes evident that Brone’s secret agenda is to re-ignite the war anyway.

As Yamato takes shape, Packard’s men detect the activity at the shipyard and mobilize to investigate. When they are detected, some of the gang start to lose their nerve, but Nabu says he’s staking his whole life on this; if they want to walk away they’ll just watch in envy when he takes off into space. Aga leaves to set up a distraction.

He is captured, but it only delays the inevitable. Rikyard is horrified to learn what Nabu is up to, convinced it could blow the lid off everything. He radios Yamato and tries to talk them down, but Nabu is having none of it. Sure enough, the Earth post on Agua sees Osaka City go into a defensive posture and decides it’s an act of aggression–which must be answered by interplanetary missiles.

Packard’s team attacks Yamato while it is still drydocked. The kids fight back as best they can, learning on the fly to operate the pulse lasers and even breaking out the handguns. The engines finally kick in as the missiles start hitting Osaka, and Shima (now captain) gives the fateful order: Yamato Hasshin!

His patience exhausted, Rikyard launches his version of an Ultra-Menace Missile to bring down the ship, but misses by inches–instead hitting the Monopole mine and setting off a vast chain reaction. Packard and his entire team are wiped out, but that’s just the beginning.

Flying over the ravaged Osaka, Yamato engages Ameshis’ ship and takes it out with one shot from which she barely escapes. Nabu sees refugees streaming out of the city and leads a rescue effort, finding Aga in the wreckage and just barely getting everyone on board before the entire planet explodes from the runaway Monopole reaction.

Yamato has been reborn, but at the cost of an entire planet and who knows how many innocent lives. Space stretches out before them and the future suddenly seems less rosey. End of Volume 2.

There was another long gap before Combat, the third and last volume appeared: August 1996. By now it was obvious the series would not continue, since no future volumes were promoted on the sleeve. At any rate, the story proceeded as if nothing had changed…

A massive Salene fleet surrounds the Earth Federation space station over Planet Rococo, a significant strategic point since it’s where the Kodai Spacemen found the first relic of the Goda civiliation, a giant underground ruin. Yamato warps into the middle of the battle (to the complete amazement of the station commander) and tears into the enemy. The Salene are quickly routed.

At the Salene home planet, Brone supervises the successful operation to reactivate an ancient Goda weapon, something like a hyper Wave-Motion Gun. And this is only a fragment. He suspects there is still much more to be found, including a source of 10th-level Monopole Energy. (A 5th-level source is already enough to power his entire empire.)

Shima reports to the Rococo station commander and via flashbacks we finally learn who he is: the captain of the previous Yamato. His last mission was to come here and retrieve critical data on the Goda, but he ran into a Salene attack that laid waste to the Kodai Spacemen’s outpost. He was able to save only two infants, Marcy and Nabu, then fled into space. Yamato was shot down by enemy fire and crash-landed on Rinbos, where they had been ever since. (Interesting sidenote: vintage Yamato soundtrack music is heard during the flashback, which makes it a highpoint of the episode. For a brief moment, it feels completely authentic.)

Nabu and the others descend to the surface of Rococo and investigate the underground Goda ruins. Marcy falls into a coma, during which time she hears a female voice that awakens something inside her. When she recovers, she finds she can access the Goda’s datastream and learns that they originally came from a place called the Dragon Galaxy. From this it is deduced that whatever information Yamato was originally meant to recover must be encoded into Marcy’s mind. And it’s obvious where they must all go next.

The Earth Federation forces assigns new crewmembers to Yamato. Nabu protests when they appear ready to take over the bridge, but his objections prove groundless when it is revealed that the mother computer will only recognize the initial crewmembers, so things settle back in with Shima as captain.

The Earth station prepares to send the rescued Rinbos citizens back to Earth in a giant warp unit, a cylindrical module the size of a skyscraper. But just as they are ready to activate it, a gigantic Salene fleet arrives under the command of Ameshis and Rikyard. He commands a dimensional space submarine that destroys the warp unit and the battle is on. (Another interesting sidenote: ship designs for the Earth fleet appear to have been preserved largely intact for the 2009 Yamato Resurrection movie.)

Yamato fires its prime weapon, the Plasma Wave-Motion Gun, which cuts a huge hole in the enemy formation and gives the Earth Fleet time to escape in a mass-warpout. But Yamato develops engine trouble and finds itself quickly cornered by Ameshis and Rikyard. Nabu has an idea, directing the ship down to the surface of Rococo and into the Goda ruins.

With Marcy patching into the Goda datastream, Yamato cuts a hole into a massive energy center and uses it to warp away. A furious Ameshis and Rikyard are left empty-handed, but they do learn that their enemies are headed for the Dragon Galaxy. Word of this is sent to Brone, and the entire Salene homeworld powers up to move out. End of volume 3.

So what was going to happen next? If all you had access to was the forthcoming episode titles listed on the sleeve wrapper of Volume 1, this was the sum total of your knowledge:

Volume 4: Ancient Mysteries

Volume 5: Planetary Spacecraft

Volume 6: Space Extinction Crisis

Volume 7: Final Solution of the Big Bang

That wasn’t much to go on, but fortunately for us it wasn’t the limit. While the series was in production, the American office of Voyager Entertainment was still attached to the Japan side, and was given documentation in English that provided an outline for the rest of the story. Though not every detail was final, the huge scale and ambitious intent of the series came through loud and clear. And now it can be shared for the first time.

Read the outline in a 10-page PDF file here.


Merchandising

For a series that clocked in at just under three hours, it generated more music releases than one might expect. First up was a CD single from pre-glam rock group Tokio containing two songs and a karaoke, released by Sony Records about two weeks before Volume 1.

Original Theme Music I was the first of two full-length CDs, a mostly-symphonic collection that included the two Tokio songs. It was released twice in January 1995, first as a special edition with a slipcase and booklet (shown at left) and then a standard edition about two weeks later. Both were from Sony Records, but a re-issue from Nippon Columbia quickly followed in April.

This 20-minute video release was another cross-promotion with Tokio, released by Sony in March 1995. One of their songs for 2520 was performed live at the Budokan, and the other was a basic music video.

Plenty of painted artwork and clips from the first episode were shown as a montage during symphonic passages between the two songs.

The last of the CDs was the Yamato 2520 Original Soundtrack, released by Sony shortly after the Tokio music video, also in March 1995. The track lineup was slightly different from Theme Music collection and included the end title sung by Caroline Reinhart.

Bandai’s B-Club magazine was the first (and possibly only) publication to give the series a cover story in the April 1995 issue. The colorful 10-page article was part of a broad view of space battleships in anime and film. A model kit of the new Yamato (above right) proved to be the farewell gesture, released on the same day as the final video volume.

The kit’s instructions folded out into the full-color poster shown above right. See a photo gallery here featuring several different finished versions of the kit.


Conclusion

And now comes the time for evaluation. If we start by judging Yamato 2520 on its own merits, separate and distinct from anything else, here’s what we find:

Internally consistent story? Check.

Unique, thoughtful design? Check.

Engaging characters? Check.

Solid production values? Check.

But there’s no way around it; this was intended as a sequel. It cannot be judged fully outside of that context. Therefore:

Music: heavy on “talky brass” with melodies that sound more like bridges than signatures. Action cues are more appropriate for a Vegas-style stage production. No recognizable themes or hooks to grab the ear. A new Hiroshi Miyagawa score would have made a huge difference.

Design: sleek, streamlined and angular. If the goal was to create a Syd Mead anime series, they succeeded with flying colors. But it’s as far as you can get from the hand-made warmth of the Leiji Matsumoto aesthetic.

Continuity: does not require the previous Yamato stories to have happened except for the single element of Wave-Motion energy, which isn’t enough to hang an entire sequel on.

And the final, completely academic question: would it have won our hearts if it had been told in full? It depends entirely on how it was written. Typically, the most dramatic and engaging beats in a story, the ones that stay with you afterward, occur after all the setup is done, about two-thirds of the way in. Traditionally, the climax spins out of that and carries you home. Since we never get past the setup, we can only speculate–in which case the answer relies entirely on whether you are an optimist or a pessimist. So in the end, it is quite literally up to you.

The best that can be said about Yamato 2520 is that it succeeds in entertaining the viewer. It may be the worst kind of sequel, but it’s far from the worst kind of story.

The End

Click here for more on Yamato 2520 at SpacecruiserYamato.com. (Click on the ‘Roman Album’ logo for extensive model sheets.)


Bonus: Promotional images, 1994-95


POSTSCRIPT: The Last Word

The Movie Art of Syd Mead, Visual Futurist

Titan Books, September 19 2017

This amazing 256-page collection spans Syd Mead’s cinematic work from Star Trek the Motion Picture all the way to Blade Runner 2049, which is reason enough for it to land on any SF fan’s bookshelf. But there’s another reason for it to land on a Yamato fan’s bookshelf: 8 pages devoted to Yamato 2520.

Order it from Amazon here.

Here is the text from this section of the book:

Yamato 2520: Masters of Anime

The passionate, mythic images created by Mead for the revival of the legendary Japanese anime series reflect his fascination with the culture of anime and the all-encompassing world of the fabled battleship. Here was an opportunity to work closely with the masters of the medium, who Mead came to admire, and to forge a true creative partnership with the storytellers, animators, and voices that were to bring the story to life.

Mead, already a near-deity in Japan, was invited to give form to a successor ship to the venerable Yamato which, much like the starship Enterprise, had become an icon of the series with fetish-finished models, interpretive text, and posters depicting it in constant demand.

As Mead explains, he was both honored and somewhat awed by the challenge. He explains. “The design had to embody the mystique of the original story ship destined by venerable animation guru [Leiji] Matsumoto. Design for the new Yamato 2520 went way beyond any movie project I have worked on… [it] was an elaborately-funded and elaborately-staged design tour de force stretching over many years.”

The medium of anime, unlike live film, is a graphic artist’s medium, revealing in image after lingering image the precision of Mead’s designs, unadulterated for the most part by the vageries of motion and lighting that so often consign intricately-designed props to fleeting impressions.

The cosmic sweep of the compositions for Yamato 2520 permeates space, time, and even tranquil, Earth-bound environments, endowing each image with an epic stature fitting the legacy of the original series.

They are among the most compelling of Mead’s long career, imbued with the gravitas of pure geometry as pure energy arches into the infinite reaches of outer space, as well as in the green-edged pools of Earth’s surface.

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