By Anton (Mei) Brandt
Introductions are in order, seeing as I am relatively new to this sort of thing: an impromptu trip to Japan to meet fellow fans of Space Battleship Yamato, traveling alone to a country outside the EU for the first time, meeting friends both old and new, and witnessing the end of Yamato 2202, Soldiers of Love.
Let’s begin with a short prologue.
Being unfamiliar with airplane rides (long ones specifically) I came well-prepared for the long battle of 11+ hours, Stockholm to Helsinki to Narita. During my trip I pondered why I was going halfway around the world with a crippling fear of heights and a wallet prematurely screaming at me to turn back. The answer was obvious: to connect with people and with a culture I respect, and to witness an event unmatched for the next 40 years. The next thing I knew I had arrived at Narita! Crazy right?
I had drifted in and out of sleep during the flight, but fortunately I suffered no jet lag. Traveling from Sweden takes you over Russia straight to Japan in a non-backwards manner, so I got proper sleep when the time was right. Neat.
Day One: Wednesday, February 27th
Getting out of Narita airport was (at first) a mess, but I got the hang of it once I re-consulted Tim’s travel notes. After getting on the NRX (Narita Express) to Tokyo, I was met with the beautiful landscapes of Japan. The old architecture immediately made me think “I’m actually here. In Japan.” In awe, dead tired after going through customs, and carrying my heavy bags, I collapsed in my seat for a short nap.
Once I arrived in Shinjuku, I came face to face with one of the most well-organized messes in the world: Shinjuku Station. But it was less difficult to deal with than Narita. Something about the myriad signs in English and the orderly, fashionable people moving about was more calming than the scary “middle of nowhere” vibes of NRT.
First time seeing Shinjuku all by myself in the afternoon…marvelous. If it wasn’t for the sour weather, it would have been perfect. The signs, constant advertisements, people pouring in and out from every direction, I was stunned. Lost for words. I’m glad I followed Tim’s advice and took a day to witness it instead of holing up at some Narita hotel as I originally planned.
After dropping off my luggage at Tokyo House Inn (near the Korean district of Shinjuku) I went off on my first unbridled journey of discovery. I walked by Toho Cinema (with its giant Godzilla head), passed through a love hotel zone, then the Kabukicho District, various locations from the Yakuza games, got heckled by Japanese hecklers (as one does, though I only ever met two) and ate a nice “beef on rice” bowl for a whopping $4. It was the most delicious and affordable bowl of beef on rice I’ve ever had. Staff were kind and accommodating.
Lessons learned during this journey: Stay hydrated. Make sure to get your movie goods early, because many sell out quickly. The Japanese are service-minded, so don’t fear asking questions. They appreciate even the most basic language ability. Always get something from vending machines, it’s great and affordable fun.
Then we get to a high point, seeing these two babies!
Then there was the Shinjuku Piccadilly theater, where I met a recently-gained Twitter friend called P-san, a hardcore Japanese Yamato fan who showered me with kindness in the form of “Welcome to Japan” gifts of the Yamato persuasion. We talked about my journey so far and she taught me about countless things that would clutter up this travelogue. It was the best moment of my trip so far, even beating the massive Yamato and Andromeda models.
After that I went to the Toho cinema to see Fate/Stay Night: Heaven’s Feel 2 – Lost Butterfly. The staff unfortunately knew very little English, but I had two months of basic Japanese, so that really helped. I grabbed my snacks, received my ticket and then…accidentally put a swedish coin into the coin machine, causing it to break for a bit. Slightly embarrassing, but they laughed it off and I sat myself in the cozy, spacious and silent theater.
Candy is bought at “the store”, popcorn is bought at the popcorn place. Important to know!
I’d been excited about this movie for over a year. It went above and beyond what I expected, handling the complex narrative material from a very long mid-section of the visual novel it was based on in a satisfying manner. Some fatigue started showing, but I fought it to the end. One movie down, three to go.
Back at the hostel, I dealt with bothersome tasks like switching beds in my dorm-style room due to a non-functional USB charger. But the rest I got there was very comfortable and rewarding; I slept away my jet lag for nine hours and it was great. The next day I would finally get to meet Tim Eldred.
Day Two: Thursday, February 28th – Youjo Senki Chapter
First business of the day: early jog to the EJ Anime theatre (10:30am is early after a long flight) to visit the Youjo Senki café opening up today. As a recent fan of the show, it was a great experience for me to see elements from that existential war drama brought to life. I’ll let the images do the talking. Videos and music played, various key frames and props were strewn about, and the menu was adorable. The food wasn’t too bad either. The staff were friendly and I got nice swag for staying.
The café celebrated the release of the Youjo Senki movie, stationed one floor above the EJ Anime Theater, formerly known as the Kadokawa Anime Theatre. To make sure I wouldn’t miss any of it, I was one of the first of two guests at opening time, giving me an hour to relax and soak in the atmosphere. Only two café guests in the first hour might sound like few, but this was a Thursday afternoon so it’s very reasonable.
Settling in to watch the movie in the cinema one floor below, I accidentally spilled all my soda before the trailers ended. The staff were kind enough to help and I felt like a fool. I even got a free new drink, which made me both happy and disappointed in myself at the same time. Nevertheless, it was a spectacular film; solid sound design, great voice work and an variety of political commentary which I actually managed to catch. Somewhere during the screening I felt my Japanese evolve, and my comprehension skills went through the roof. With the exception of one or two scenes, I understood it perfectly.
Afterward, I went to a small café in Akihabara, enjoyed some matcha green tea latte for an hour, and just chatted away with free Internet as the rain fall outside. At this point I found out Nobuyoshi Habara (Yamato 2202’s Director) had tweeted at me in Swedish, welcoming me to Japan. Fantastic.
At Pasela karaoke, I struggled with the system for 40 minutes. My goal was to get the Youjo Senki collaboration menu and it worked! There was no English option on my machine, but rather an option for English songs and artists. The staff helped me to pick Isao Sasaki songs, but the machine reset after inactivity and I couldn’t find the page again. I’ve learned all the hiragana and some katakana for the trip, but the kanjis screwed me up, so I tried searching for Yamato 2202 songs and succeeded. The main title, Crimson Red, and Great Sum! Achievement unlocked!
Crimson Red is the 4th ED song, Great Sum the 6th. Isao Sasaki sings the Yamato theme, among others. Some songs have English transliteration, some have kanas. None had romaji. Luckily, I had a friend translate some 2202 songs beforehand (all of them) so everything worked out for the last ten minutes when I was actually able to sing.
Then I headed to Shinjuku to meet Tim Eldred and Anton Kholodovk, who were on their way in from Narita. Due to complications, only Tim and I had the chance to meet. Unfortunate, since I was excited to meet someone sharing my namesake. Not that this “Tim” fellow was any pushover. Bright, kind-hearted, open and well-spoken, which perfectly fit how I imagined him. Not only a veteran Yamato fan, but a huge inspiration to me as an up-and-coming content creator.
He took me to many stores where I made impulse buys that bankrupted me. (Not really, but it was definitely a start!) We found various Yamato merch photographed and discussed by Tim in his travelogue. At a sushi restaurant he told me stories of meeting various industry personalities, which caused me to babble on about the countless theories I’d gathered about 2202.
Right… 2202. Tomorrow would be the day I witnessed the end of Soldiers of Love. Like Sabera recalling her memories in Episode 12, my instincts kicked in and entered full-on Yamato mode. That mode wouldn’t be switched off until much later.
Something worth knowing about Mei (Me): I’ve been a big fan of Harutoshi Fukui (writer of 2202) since Gundam Unicorn, where I found his complex but beautifully-woven tribute to the Universal Century to be a passionate cry of love. It touched me deeply, yet somehow he managed to make me fall even more in love with 2202 than any work for many years. I understand that his writing might not appeal to everyone, but it’s very engaging and involving to me. He’s a huge inspiration to me as an aspiring writer.
To finish the evening, we both went to meet Tim’s friend Sonchori Ha (A.K.A. Cat Hands Agent), who offered up his services in yet another gesture of Japanese hospitality (something I’ve come to miss ever since returning home). The Japanese people I’ve met so far had given me such a warm and welcoming metaphorical embrace, I dare say it’s the most loved I’ve ever felt by strangers and distant online friends.
Contemplating these and other thoughts, I headed straight to bed, exhausted. Tomorrow was the day we would witness the end to a story I’ve held dear for 2+ years. The wait after Chapter 6 made me want to yell out in Koichi Yamadera’s voice; “It’s been a long time, men of Cosmo DNA!”
Day Three: Friday, March 1st
Soldiers of Hype Chapter
Barely any sleep, early wakeup, then the Yamato line.
As Tim had planned, we were all supposed to meet up in front of the Shinjuku Piccadilly at 7am. Unfortunately, due to me being slow at finishing my shower, I arrived at 7:15 to be met with…no line of people. A quick check with Tim provided no information, so I decided to approach the theater anyway. “There’s supposed to be a line of people, according to Tim” I thought, and sure enough there was – on the inside. Rain had poured down all morning, so the Piccadilly staff seemed to have opened earlier to make sure their customers wouldn’t get drenched. Lucky!
Waiting for Chapter 7 to start.
Inside, I saw my compatriots in different parts of the newly-formed merch line, and suddenly bumped into a man with whom I had spoken online for many months: Minoru Itgaki. Having traveled far against the rain from Yokohama early in the morning, he’d made it unscathed (but tired). We had our first official conversation as other Japanese Twitter friends popped up all around. “Ah, you’re Mei-san? This is so cool!” I was blown away by how well-known I had become (via Twitter) in the time I’d spent gearing up for the trip.
I saw P-san again, among others I had longed to meet. As Minoru-san explained what certain gift shop items were, I made my acquaintance with several Yamatour members all listed in Tim’s travelogue. And then we headed in. Genga delivered, merch bought, and an excitement beyond any other boiled up!
Among the items I bought were a Saki Todo blanket and acrylic figure, clear files, the Blu-ray, and program books. I left the second OST & Theme Song CDs for another time, since several stores would give away a clear file when you bought them.
The experience blew my mind. The story I had followed for the last two years, a story which helped me make sense of several human concepts following a tough breakup, was finally concluded. I won’t pretend that I understood all the dialogue-heavy scenes, but the story resonated with me and delivered some cold, tough punches to my heart. At one point during the movie I realized, “Wait… I’m in Japan. Watching my generation’s Farewell to Yamato.” It was hard to comprehend. Subsequent viewings would help make more sense of some ideas I had, starting later that very day. Some predictions came true, others did not.
Following this, Tim took us to Nakano Broadway, a nice little district with many shops catering to very specific needs, from BJDs to animation cell auctions and the legendary Mandarake chain stores. BJD means “Ball Jointed Doll.” They’re highly-detailed works of art mimicking the articulated joints of human beings. I own one myself, as seen here.
We all had a celebratory curry lunch. My table was shared with Daniel George, Darren Ashmore, and Minoru-san. We talked about everything from Gundam to Star Wars, our thoughts and theories about the ending of 2202, and what was to come.
A short summary on my table-mates: Dan is a quick-witted, charming lad from Australia with an extensive passion and insight. I felt a strong connection that deepened over the subsequent days I’d spend time with him.
Darren is a larger-than life character whose extensive encyclopedic knowledge rivaled my own, and we had healthy discussions about the way Yasuhiko Yoshikazu portrayed the original Gundam characters in Gundam the Origin, as well as the origins of the 1990’s anime series Legend of the Galactic Heroes, directed by Noboru Ishiguro.
Minoru is an easy-going, kind-hearted, and very open Japanese man who was clearly having a great day despite his long trip. He had no trouble laying down interesting Japanese trivia and indulged in sharing the beautiful aspects of his countries to all of us.
Finishing our afternoon in Nakano, I headed back to the Piccadilly for my second Yamato screening (yes, on the same day as my first). This was going to be a “stage greeting” screening, meaning we’d get to see Director Nobuyoshi Habara and Writer Harutoshi Fukui talk on-stage after the film. We met up with several more of P-san’s friends and they all wanted to meet me!
Another fun fact: All the fans I met so far were aware of the Cosmo DNA website and had great love and admiration for it!
My first rewatch of 2202 Chapter 7 began. As spectacular as last time, but even more powerful. I ended up crying my eyes out at the end. Seeing Fukui & Habara talk about the making of Chapter 7 was the cherry on top!
We then headed to Hakatayaki-Yamato, the official Yamato restaurant in Shibuya. I knew Tim and the rest of the Yamatour Gang had gone there a bit earlier, but I didn’t expect them to still be there when we arrived.
Tim saw me float by his table in my personal heaven. Indebted to the kind treatment of the Japanese, I did not wish to keep them waiting. Unfortunately, this was perceived as me brushing off the rest of the Yamatour guys, giving birth to an inside joke. “Anton’s already too cool for us with his new JAPANESE friends.” Man, I love these people, I honestly do.
During the course of the dinner I was given more Yamato souvenirs (somehow) and they paid for my dinner out of the kindness of their hearts. This did not sit well with me, since I share their sentiment about fair trades. But to them it was a chance to show how happy they were to welcome me to their Yamato family, which I heartily had to accept.
After a while they started calling me “Mei hakase” [Professor Mei] because of my extensive knowledge of voice actors and obscure Yamato/Galactic Heroes trivia. Our tastes in Yamato anime and music aligned pretty well. My ranking of 2202 songs perfectly mirrored theirs, and my naming of Farewell as my favorite movie earned me praise for good taste. Before we left the restaurant I bought a bottle of Yuki sake and the staff gifted me with two free coasters and a pair of unopened Yuki Mori chopsticks.
I’m telling you, this “Japanese Hospitality” gave my heart emotion-diabetes. To meet such like-minded, harmonious & kind-spirited individuals was the experience of a lifetime. I miss you all a whole bunch up here in the cold northern climate of Sweden. Take me back! On another note, the restaurant was bigger than I thought, serving all manner of things including Yamato-style drinks served in Sado-sensei’s measuring cups with cute Yamato stirring sticks.
Before we said our goodbyes for the night, P-san and I discussed the coming day, which was to begin with yet another Yamato stage greeting at the Marunouchi Piccadilly, followed by a visit to the Galactic Heroes “Iserlohn Fortress” restaurant in Ueno. It would end with a City Hunter screening in 4DX with Tim, Anton Kholodov and another member of the gang, Hiroshi Ban.
It would be another early start, but it was going to be worth it. A fellow Twitter user called “Cosmotiger2199” helped me navigate Shinjuku station following the restaurant visit. We talked for a bit to the best of my abilities, and I strolled home beyond satisfied with today’s events.
The bounty for days three and four
Day Four: Saturday, March 2nd – Omotenashi Chapter
Rising early, I met up with P-san near the Marunouchi Piccadilly Cinema in Yurakucho according to plan. We were both visibly tired, but very excited to witness another stage greeting – this time with the combined forces of Daisuke Ono (Kodai), Kenichi Suzumura (Shima), Houko Kuwashima (Yuki), Hiroshi Kamiya (Keyman), Koichi Yamadera (Desler), Hideaki Tezuka (Zordar), Eriko Nakamura (Kiryu), Harutoshi Fukui and Nobuyoshi Habara! Wow… that was a mouthful. Seeing some of the most renowned voice actors in the current anime scene just 20 meters in front of me was a surreal experience.
Once inside the MaruPicca we met several Yamato fans who greeted me with the same vigor and enthusiasm as the day before. We discussed the film, bought more movie merch and then headed in. Third time’s the charm ain’t it? Despite this being my last screening of 2202, I would have happily seen it again. But the three screenings I went to were all more than worth the price of admission, and once that newly-announced sequel is ready, I’ll do my best to return in full force!
I then went to Akihabara to meet up with the Yamatour group and buy souvenirs for several friends back home as well as other parts of the world. I marveled at Japanese otaku culture in its full form, and we took our time talking over the last few day’s events as we stood in line at Maru Go, which Tim and Dan deemed to be the best tonkatsu place around. It had to be worth it, since I had another appointment with P-san at the Iserlohn Fortress in an hour and hadn’t eaten a proper breakfast yet.
I may sound stressed out at this point, because I was. I didn’t want to fail any of my benefactors and friends for this trip, so I was at a crossroads. Conveniently, Anton Kholodov took this opportunity to get to know me better as he took me to an Otaku shop for cool shirts.
Anton Kholodov, who bears a striking resemblance to a certain benevolent dictator from 2199’s Garmillas *cough cough* is a man of outstanding moral character who is very easy to get along with. The conversations we had were smooth and warm. Later that night we’d bond a bit more, but for now I was just having fun walking around with him. We saw LoGH shirts and cool gizmos from every non-Yamato series under the sun, but unfortunately no great catch. We rejoined the rest of the gang to see that the line was shortening, and hunger took over from rational thought. We went in, sat down and had our first bite. It was great! Admittedly it was the first tonkatsu I ever had, so my experience was insufficient, but it was good! Too bad I had to rush it to catch up with P-san for the Iserlohn Fortress visit.
Right afterward, Tim and I failed to acquire the new 2202 CDs (the store we found had no clue about the clear file campaign), but Tim would make sure to find them later down the line. I then rushed over to meet P-san and Cosmotiger2199 in front of the Gundam Café, and we took a taxi to Ueno to meet Meijin-san. And I finally got the chance to split the bill on something (the taxi fare).
Once there, I had a eureka moment. You see, Legend of the Galactic Heroes is so dear to me as a series that I had to force myself to buy the $800 American Blu-ray box last year, even if it cost me my entire soul. Subsequently I’ve introduced the show to two friends, seeing it all the way through with both of them. And now, following the remake, this café stood tall with a large menu of Gineiden-style food, drinks and desserts (my favorite being “Marika’s ice cream”). It had its own souvenir shop and in-universe staff/actors serving up piles of food as they quoted lines from the series.
They had this crazy-cool hidden bathroom which Cosmotiger-san decided to show me, to see the shock on my face. And I was shocked. Hidden in plain sight behind a glass wall disguised as a wine cellar, you could see signs saying “gentlemen” and “ladies.” So cool.]
Extra stuff from this experience included one random coaster per drink, one coin of your choice if you were new (In-universe coins with options for the two different sides, either Galactic Empire or Free-Planets Alliance) and if you paid extra for your drink you got a souvenir glass to take home. Obviously, I seized this opportunity. Before leaving, we all took photos of the place, of our food and drinks, and a few of me dressed as Reinhard Von Lohengramm in his beautiful emperor’s getup. Meijin-san wanted a picture of us together, so of course we took one!
Following this, those pesky friends of mine just had to show their Japanese omotenashi [hospitality] again and split the bill, then we headed off in our own directions. They went to rewatch 2202 and I went to meet Tim for a pre-planned City Hunter screening in 4DX at Toho Cinema.
I went back to my hostel for a short packing session and rushed to meet up with Tim, Anton K, and a new face: Hiroshi Ban, a soft-spoken man unafraid to voice his opinion and to speak English with the rest of us. He provided more great company to an already wonderful group. We went inside the cinema to watch CITY HUNTAAAAH – Shinjuku Private Eyes!
In preparation for this trip I had spent the last month trying to catch up with over 140 City Hunter episodes. As one could guess, this did not go according to plan. Instead, I managed to get past the first two seasons (about 100 episodes), the first movie, and half of season 3 before saying to myself “I can’t rush this, it’s too good. Sorry!” Fortunately, I did not miss any musical references or connections with the original (with the exception of Season 3, episode 10 which was referenced at the end of the movie). Perfect!
This movie was a complete blast! Nostalgia at its finest, fine-tuned to go along with the modern-day setting of Shinjuku but still maintaining the spirit and brevity of the original in all its unapologetic forms. I remember Anton K saying at the end, “This kind of movie makes me want something strong to drink.” And he didn’t mean it in a negative way.
The 4DX experience was spectacular for me, but not for Tim or Anton. Tim got sprayed with funky-smelling water and the shaking chairs were too violent for Anton’s tastes. I was fine, getting scented puffs at points when they were supposed to happen, and not getting sprayed in the face. I had the most immersive movie experience ever when the main character Ryo Saeba fell on a lady’s chest after she exited the shower, smelling her shampoo. Brilliant use of the 4D gimmicks. Less so with the air-cannon gunshots, each time someone fired a gun. They could do well with a decrease in pressure.
Tim had to leave for the night since he was about to pass out from exhaustion, but I had a drink with Anton and Hiroshi where we talked Yamato, City Hunter and Macross (which reminded me that I really have to see Macross, considering it was directed by the legendary Noboru Ishiguro). The restaurant’s watered-down drinks worked against Anton K’s desire to drink something strong, so we vowed to one day have another session for greater success. It would not come to pass for this trip, considering it was almost over for me.