My hotel must have been built in 2001. Open the elevator doors, Hal.
Day 9: Friday, March 8
Trip 9 was a no-brainer after all the previous visits: Yamato 2199 Ark of the Stars would open in December 2014. That premiere turned out to be the busiest day in the entire history of the franchise, and I’m proud to have been there for it. The entire week was eventful and memorable. Read the travelogue here.
There’s this hilly-thing on the way to Osaka. Looked fake to me.
I woke up early for my traditional day trip to Osaka, and was surprised when Dan contacted me to say that he and Walter had decided to join me there. A Yamatour 2019 reunion, already! About four hours later, we were together again at Shin-Osaka station and ready to paint the streets with blood of the rabble (i.e. walk and shop).
Osaka is a food town. Left: we all read this as “fart cake.” Center: Don’t eat here if you’re in a hurry.
Right: One reason to go to Japan is to have a Hawaiian breakfast for lunch.
After blundering our way through the sprawling labyrinth of Osaka station, we walked to Mandarake Umeda, the first of this city’s two stores. Not finding much, we hopped on a brief subway ride to Mandarake Grand Chaos and continued to not find much. (They can’t all be wonderful all the time, or it just wouldn’t be fair.) On the other hand, it was interesting to observe how drastically the once-mighty LD box sets had been reduced in price.
For example, a box of the entire Future Boy Conan series could now be had for only 1500yen (about $15). As I observed earlier in this travelogue, LDs don’t upscale well to HD screens. So at this point, you’re just paying for package art – which is still gorgeous – but that’s about all this format has to offer now. I’d noticed it elsewhere in Tokyo, premium-priced discs now being practically given away for pennies. That’s how a format truly goes extinct.
That guy from work showed up again. He’s stalking me, I’m sure of it.
Though the stores were unproductive, Osaka can always be relied upon for its cuisine. We rediscovered this when we tripped over a Hawaiian restaurant that could have been transplanted right out of Hawaii, bilingual menus and all. We had breakfast for lunch and enjoyed every bite.
Left: Our pal Osaka Joe (language pun; Jo means Castle). Right: I christened this the Ginga building.
Another subway ride and an unexpectedly long walk later, we entered the grounds of Osaka castle for a repeat of our experience in Nagoya. This late in the day, the buildings weren’t accepting any more visitors. So we enjoyed it from the outside and gave our ailing feet a break with a taxi ride back to Umeda.
That lady from Nagoya showed up at the Mandarake in Osaka. ANOTHER stalker?
Right: One of the rarest Yamato models in history, price approaching $400 USD.
There we swept through the first Mandarake store again (doing slightly better this time) and went on to the climax: an okonomiyaki dinner at Hirokazuya. It sits just a few minutes’ walk from the store and is another one of those places I’ll never tire of visiting. The Okonomiyaki is grilled to perfection and puts back all of the energy it took you to get there.
Returning where we started the day at Shin-Osaka station, we parted as brothers on the train platform. I gritted my teeth and told them I was not going to cry. So, instead, we laughed.
Shinjuku Piccadilly gift shop, start of the second week for Chapter 7. That gum you like is back in style.
Day 10: Saturday, March 9
Trip 10 in February 2017 was different in many ways. There was the premiere of Yamato 2202 Chapter 1, of course, but this was also the first time I was actually IN SHAPE in Tokyo. I’d shed close to 50 pounds (running and dieting), and the results were amazing. My stamina was way up, I could finally fit into Japanese clothing, and my mood was in the clouds the entire time, especially when I got to visit my pal Nobuyoshi Habara at Xebec studio where he was making 2202. Read the travelogue here.
…but NOBODY wants those freakin’ sandals or tote bags. (Far right.) NOBODY.
On the last full day of this trip, I took in a third screening of Chapter 7. All the ambient information I’d gathered over the week, especially in my talk with Mr. Habara, made this the clearest viewing. Context played a stronger role and points became clarified. I still didn’t have all of it, but that would be rectified in another twelve hours or so.
This was the most emotional viewing so far. The ending of Episode 25 is one thing; (spoiler warning) it essentially replays the finale of Farewell to Yamato. We get there via a slightly different path, but the last scenes are identical. But THEN, there is Episode 26. If you ever wondered what might have happened after that movie, this episode gives it to you. It is the most heartfelt of the series, pulling all the threads together into a single tapestry. When it reached its climax, my tear ducts finally opened all the way up. This was exactly the moment I had come all the way to Japan for. This was the one that got me. Fukui, Habara and company gave me the gift of catharsis.
Okay, earlier in this travelogue I said that I had extended this trip for a slightly trivial reason, and now it’s time for that gun to go off. Each week, there is a free theater handout when you enter the screening room: an envelope of production art. The film plays for four weeks, so there are four sets. With all the previous chapters, I had to fight a weekly battle at the Yahoo Japan Auction site to collect each set. It was a flaming nuisance, and I wanted to avoid as much of it as I could this time. So…I added three days to my usual seven. Then I’d be there to collect set 2 in person. I’d still have to chase down 3 and 4 online, but this would mean one less fight. So there. Laugh at me.
Of course, I took full advantage of those bonus days and got to do a lot more than usual. It was completely worth it, and I’m very tempted to do it again next time. We’ll see.
Right after the film I did a quick last run to Nakano Broadway to pick something up that I’d been mulling over since seeing it on the first day, (after getting the Vifam 13 DVD set I caught the bug and decided to go for all of Galaxy Drifter Vifam) and it led to a moment that I’d been dreading all week: the lost glove.
This was winter, so going in and out of places always set off a round of fussing with cold weather gear. Get the hat and gloves off ASAP, or you’ll break a sweat in that store. Then get them back on ASAP when leaving, or you’ll get bit by the weather. So stuff is going into and coming out of pockets all the time. Because of that, I’d been dreading the moment when I’d reach for my gloves and find only one. Then the sick feeling of having lost its mate for good. Several times I felt my stomach drop, then remember that I put glove B in a different pocket this time. Get the picture?
Coolest cat in Tokyo.
So today I get off the train at Nakano station. The day has actually warmed up a bit, which is nice, but I still have the hat and gloves stuffed in my pockets. Or so I thought. I feel a tap on my shoulder. There’s a man standing there. “Sir. Your glove.” He’s holding one of them.
Son of a butch. It finally happened. And a complete stranger rescued me. Arigato, Japan. And screw you, fate. You treacherous bastard.
The next big event of the day was one long coming and well-earned. Jump back to day 3 and our ill-fated attempt to get on one of the Matsumoto boats at Hinode Pier. The attempt that put us on THE BEST BOAT. PERIOD. After that, I personally decided that this aggression would not stand, man. There was enough time left to take another run at it, and that’s exactly what I was gonna do.
Teaming up with Anton Kholodov and three other local compatriots (Hiroshi Ban, Tsuneo Tateno, and Kat Callaghan), we lit out from Shinjuku to Asakusa Pier. This was Queen Emeraldas’ home base and we were going to brute-force our way on board if we had to.
We got there just a few minutes before her next launch and my eyes settled on the schedule. Yep, she was running today. And every damn ride was SOLD. OUT. That settled it. This had gone from a nuisance to a curse. I was never going to set foot on one of these damn things again, and I might as well just live with it.
But then, a glimmer. One reason I brought locals with me (beside enjoying their company) was to see if they had some insight that was denied to me, some miracle ointment that might unstick this frozen joint. And…they DID! Hiroshi Ban noticed a crack in the armor. The regular area of the boat was sold out, but we could still spend a little more (2500 yen each) for a reserved compartment. Just one problem: the limit was four and we were five. Another obstacle crashed into our path. But then, more miracle ointment: Anton graciously offered to withdraw. He would go on to other things and meet up with me later.
So now we had the right number to reserve and a slot was open in the next cruise, two hours away. And we were all hungry for lunch. The stars had aligned at last.
We found lunch in a local mall and relaxed with small talk, getting caught up on each others’ lives and views. Then launch time came. Not only did we have our compartment waiting, we were allowed to board first. For just a brief moment, we had Queen Emeraldas all to ourselves.
And what a gorgeous, dignified lady she is. All curves and arcs and tapers, she is exquisite from every angle. Our “compartment” was a table set into a nook with our own private porthole, and we were free to roam from there. All three of these Matsumoto boats are meant primarily for short pleasure cruises down the river into Tokyo bay, ending at Odaiba. This meant we’d have to take the Yurikamome train back into Tokyo, but that was easy enough. For 55 minutes, we’d have a kingly view you can get nowhere else.
I spent roughly the first 15 minutes racing around to get every shot I could. The only way to get a bad one is to aim your camera straight down. That interior is a photographer’s dream, and watching the dozen or so bridges sweep over you is a sheer delight. Recordings of anime voice actors accompany you for the voyage, with Emeraldas herself saying “Queen Emeraldas-go, Hashhin!” upon launch. Then Maetel and Tetsuro (the actual voice actors from the original Galaxy Express 999) come in to describe what you’re seeing outside.
Quite properly, the captain of Queen Emeraldas is a woman, or at least she was on that day. I like to think that it could only be a woman, but we were in good hands either way.
After we cleared all the bridges, some of which seemed to loom just a few feet over our heads, an attendant went up to the top deck and raised the hand rails. Maetel and Tetsuro announced that we could now go outside for an even better view. I was unprepared for the winter wind, and it made me even more grateful for that kind stranger who diverted fate so I could have both of my gloves.
We were about in the final third of our cruise by now, and though temperatures were too sharp to spend all of our time topside, I made sure to be back up there as we approached the dock at Odaiba’s Seaside Park. As skin-tightening winds clutched at me, I silently marked a well-earned Yamatour 2019 victory. I had both my gloves and finally got to ride the ACTUAL best boat ever.
Hiroshi went his own way and the remaining three of us wedged into a crowded train back to the mainland, finishing up strands of conversation while pressed in on all sides. It’s just something you live with on an Odaiba weekend. That’s where everyone goes to get away from the crowds. So they’re all there together.
Look, everyone! Japan figured it out!
Dinner time was approaching, and it would take place in Akihabara, where I was going to meet my new friend for this trip. On average, I make one new friend each time, and this one was named Toshinori Watanabe. He was waiting for me outside of Gundam Café along with Anton Kholodov and old pal Gwyn Campbell, who has appeared in these travelogues many times. Gwyn had generously agreed to translate a conversation involving Toshinori’s doujinshi publishing activities.
We parked ourselves at an imitation British pub and dug in. Toshinori is an O.G. Yamato fan, one of those guys who saw it all in real time. What’s more, he was personally acquainted with Yoshinobu Nishizaki and was granted personal access to his archive of production materials. Over the last several years, he has curated those archives into three books: a handsome hardcover titled Proud of Yamato, and two doujinshi titled Hero’s Trajectory, one volume each for Be Forever and Final Yamato.
These books go far beyond typical fanzine fare. Proud of Yamato is like something you’d find at an art exhibition and the Hero’s Trajectory books are visual encyclopedias. If you’re an O.G. Yamato fan (and of course you are, or you wouldn’t be here), these are the books you always wanted even before you knew they existed. Well, good news: they exist.
Beyond getting acquainted and sharing our fandom, the purpose of this meeting was to discuss a method for getting these books into your hands. And we may have figured it out. Details to follow as they firm up, both here on Cosmo DNA and our Facebook page.
Regardless of how that shakes out, Mr. Watanabe was kind and generous, happy to have all three of us as new friends. He invited us to his home upon my next visit. I plan to take him up on that.
It was approaching 9pm when we wrapped up, past time to get on with our final agenda item: recording the last Yamato 2202 episode of Gwyn’s Speaker Podcast (which is usually devoted to Macross). He and I have been doing these “sideshow” episodes since Chapter 1. We did the first during my 2017 visit, and we’d do the last tonight. (Incidentally, I was in the midst of watching Macross 7 at the time, learning that it was the source of the term “speaker pod.” Finally, it all made sense.)
Okay, one more. Man, she’s gorgeous.
This was going to be a tight one. We didn’t get fully underway until almost 10pm, and our mission was to watch all four episodes on the Chapter 7 blu-ray in one sitting. Watch one, talk about it, watch the next, talk about it, etc. It got a bit nerve-wracking as midnight approached, since Anton and I would have to bolt out for the last train at 12:15. And there was a LOT to talk about.
This viewing wasn’t nearly as emotional as it had been that morning. But it was much more informative with Gwyn filling in the remaining story gaps. My last few misconceptions were cleared away and small details stitched together the big ones. I came away with a deeper respect for the story and did my part with notes from Mr. Habara and observations about the parallels with 1978.
When 12:15 rolled around we still had things to cover, so we agreed to suspend it for a week and follow up via Skype from our separate home addresses. Which we did. And you can hear the finished podcast right here!
Day 11: Sunday, March 10
Trip 11 entered the Yamatour history books on this day. The final day tradition has always been a lightning round of shopping, but this one was a lightning round of problem-solving. As usual, I’d bought much more than I could carry home, so getting the surplus into the hands of my friend Sonchori Ha (i.e. Cat Hands Agent) was priority one, mixed up with hotel checkout and securing my Narita Express ticket back to the airport.
Once all that was beaten to the ground, Anton K joined us with 90 minutes left on the clock. We stopped by for one more glance at the giant Yamato/Andromeda display models at the Shinjuku Piccadilly, which would probably be our last. (Who knows if they’ll appear together again? Not I.)
As previously mentioned, on Thursday night I noticed that a standee had just been installed for the new 2202 OUT magazine. When I’d seen the film on Wednesday morning, the theater’s entire stock of OUT was gone, so I hoped they’d get some more now that they were promoting it. And sure enough, there was a fresh new batch when I went in on Saturday. Good job, Piccadilly. (They still had a bunch of blu-rays, too. They’d learned from past mistakes.)
Noticing the characters were almost life-size, Anton made the funniest joke of the week. “If they just cut out the Dessler face, I could step in and no one would notice.”
If you know why that’s funny, you just earned a Yamatour No-prize. If you don’t, I’ll save you a deep dive: after Yamatour 2012, I noticed a strong similarity between the design for Dessler…and the face of Anton Kholodov. We later learned that this wasn’t a coincidence. A photo I took of Anton was published in the travelogue for that trip, Voyager took notice, and Anton himself became a reference point for Dessler’s design in Yamato 2199. Now go back and read his joke again.
Saraba, Yamato. Saraba, Andromeda. See you again!
The very last purchase of the trip was a program book for Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse. I was overjoyed to learn that it would open while I was in Tokyo and really wanted to see it with an anime-style Japanese dub. Instead, time had flown away and denied me the chance. But at least I could land a program book and save myself another chase on Yahoo Japan Auctions. As a nice bonus, the theater had restocked City Hunter program books too. Final items ticked off the shopping list.
Sleek hulls and airport sushi can only mean things are coming to an end…
One tonkatsu lunch later, it was a taxi to the train, train to the airport, plane to the home front. Yamatour 2019 had delivered on all counts. I have no idea when the next Yamato event will ignite another voyage, but the crew is ready.
Coming soon: the Adventures of Anton Brandt!