Daisuke Ono & Koichi Yamadera intervew, March 2019

Amidst the final round of staff and cast interviews for Yamato 2202 Chapter 7 was a conversation between the top rivals: Daisuke Ono (voice of Kodai) and Koichi Yamadera (voice of Dessler). Their interview was published widely at [titles] Animate Times, Mantan Web, Pash Plus, TV Guide, Web Newtype, V Storage, the official 2202 website, and Yamato 2202 Newspaper 4. As 2202 recedes over the horizon, here’s their parting gift to us.

Space Battleship Yamato 2202 Daisuke Ono & Koichi Yamadera interview

The tension when voice actors young and old gather together, and the impressions that can only be tasted there

Interview by Yu Ishibashi, published March 1 2019

Yamato 2202, the latest series of Space Battleship Yamato, finally reaches its last chapter. Yamato 2199, which launched as a new Yamato, began in 2012. From there, we’ve reached the end of a seven-year journey.

It was an homage to a masterpiece that cannot be ignored when talking about the history of Japanese anime, and it has evoked many feelings from both the fans and the production side. The two we interview here are among them. In Yamato 2202, Daisuke Ono played Susumu Kodai and Koichi Yamadera played Abelt Dessler. We asked them about their feelings as actors in a big title and what it was like to travel to the final chapter. Hearing their thoughts was a precious moment.

The on-site atmosphere changed when Mr. Yamadera arrived

Interviewer: Yamato 2202 has finally come to a close. It’s been seven years since the beginning of Yamato 2199, the same amount of time it takes for a child to pass through elementary school. Please tell us your honest feelings at finally reaching the end.

Ono: In the case of 2199, it was a journey of a year and a half for 26 episodes of a TV series. I think I traveled almost two years for 2202. After a while, the atmosphere of the studio and voice recording booth was really like the bridge of Yamato. I felt like we were all on a journey together in 2199. When we recorded the final episode of 2202, I thought that I had really traveled with everyone. It was really good that we all got here. Everyone was really thankful.

Interviewer: Do you mean it seemed like everyone was really there on a battleship?

Ono: That’s right. From the recording booth you see the staff in the control room and they look like the captain and navigator on Yamato’s bridge.

Yamadera: That feeling of tension comes through the glass.

Ono: Because the atmosphere is so similar, there was always the sense of being on board Yamato. In addition, the actors who participated are men and women of all ages. The veteran actors represent Japan, and there were many young actors at the same time. The Yamato generation and the generation not touched by Yamato gathered together in one place. Everyone poured passion into their work with the same feeling. As the “acting captain”…no, as the “captain,” I was very glad to see that. I was really proud of the crew.

Yamadera: You just said men and women of all ages, but I’m still young. (Laughs)

Ono: I didn’t say anyone was old! (Laughs)

Yamadera: Are you saying Mr. Mugihito [voice of Tokugawa] is old?

Ono: You’re making it look like I said that, so knock it off. (Laughs)

Yamadera: In my case, on both 2199 and 2202, I joined in on the voice recording along the way. I didn’t appear every time, but this has a clear distinction from other series. It’s a special work. Because I only appeared sometimes, there was a lot of tension. Of course, there is tension in other works, too, but there haven’t been any other works where I did it for such a long time and didn’t lose that feeling of tension until the end.

It was never a harsh atmosphere since everyone gets along well, but I had that tense feeling until the end every time. For me, there isn’t an actual feeling yet that “it’s over.” I feel like I’m still on the journey.

Interviewer: You do still feel tension.

Yamadera: Because I’m both young and old. (Laughs) But there weren’t just veterans there. There were young people at the Yamato site who are leading voice actors in the industry now, including Mr. Ono. There are a lot of people, and many of them are dazzling.

Ono: Mr. Yamadera was nervous, too.

Yamadera: Seriously! (Laughs) On 2199, the Yamato side and Garmillas sides were recorded separately, but on 2202 we were able to record with everyone. Chairs were lined up for all the people who couldn’t fit into the studio for recording. For an actor who is always in the center when I go to other sites, it was like, “shall I sit in the corner?” (Laughs)

Ono: That’s right. (Laughs) It was like, “If I sit down, there will be no place for the younger people to sit.” (Laughs)

Yamadera: Me too. I felt like, “What should I do?”

Ono: Whenever Mr. Yamadera came in, the atmosphere of the place got very showy.

Yamadera: Oh, please write down that Mr. Ono said that. (Laughs)

(Everyone laughs)

Ono: Everyone was very friendly, not just Mr. Yamadera. Houchu Otsuka [Sanada] and Mugihito [Tokugawa] are very friendly, and we can talk freely. They’re great seniors in all our eyes.

Yamadera: Like our grandfathers, really.

Ono: You said it, not me. (Laughs) There are others like Shigeru Chiba (Dr. Sado), who is great, too. I was always worried about how I should communicate as the chairman.

Yamadera: That’s true, you were kind of a chairman. But it was a really nice atmosphere.

Ono: Is that so? Good. But when Mr. Yamadera came in and sat near me, I felt like the atmosphere had risen by a step.

Overcoming it with the power of everyone

Interviewer: What do you think it is about Yamato that has made everyone love it for so long?

Yamadera: That’s a difficult question, and I get it every time. (Laughs) But it’s important.

Ono: I always think that it’s because Yamato depicts a universal theme. Yamato is a work known to everyone who is Japanese. No matter who you ask, even if they haven’t seen Yamato, they know “It’s the story of going to Iscandar and coming back,” don’t they? The song tells the story, so everyone knows. So you could say Yamato has reached the realm of folklore and fairy tales.

In the mind of the Japanese, it has a beauty and nobility. It’s a legendary SF anime and it gets your blood racing when you see it, so it includes entertainment elements. It’s a work that contains everything that people like and cherish. That might be “love.” Therefore, even if it’s remade for the times, it’s possible for today’s young people to like it. I think it’s a work full of appeal that can be enjoyed as entertainment.

Yamadera: It’s exactly as Mr. Ono says. That’s all of it.

Ono: Cheater! That’s cheating! (Laughs)

Yamadera: I think that because just one element couldn’t be loved for such a long time, it’s probably various things put together. One thing to say about it is that it’s magnificent. I don’t think it’s necessarily limited to the Japanese. It’s a human drama that touches peoples’ heartstrings.

I started with the first, original Yamato when I was in seventh grade. Among all the anime for elementary school children, I thought, “Is anime graduating?” I remember that Yamato was very addictive for adults. At the time there were no stories that had such a crisis. Moreover, it wasn’t a personal crisis, but it was on a global scale. Even when the viewer thought overcoming it was absolutely impossible, somehow they did it. It was the royal road of entertainment.

At the time I didn’t think there was any other story like it, and I still feel that way. The new staff of 2199 and 2202 have that same respect, and that’s how they made it into a new, rich story with love.

Ono: Yamato is in a pinch all the time, isn’t it? (Laughs) Even if they escape from a pinch, there will be another pinch.

Yamadera: Well, Zordar is terrible. Hideaki Tezuka’s voice is just amazing.

Ono: I didn’t feel like we could win (Laughs)

Yamadera: He’s very soft-spoken, but he can be very scary when he talks.

Ono: The viewers will understand that we have to overcome such a threat with everyone’s power instead of the power of one. You can feel the appeal of the work from there, can’t you? We’ll never lose, we can definitely overcome it.

Dessler is also part of the “great sum”

Interviewer: I think the characters are different from 2199. Was there any change in how you look at your characters, Kodai and Dessler?

Ono: Since 2202 starts three years after 2199, Kodai has a new position and his responsibilities have also increased. You could say he starts out in a middle-management type position. I think you can start to see a sense of growth from 2199 when you see those surroundings.

Speaking of Kodai, one of the things I inherited from the original is a place where I can rush forward with my own feelings. It’s one of his good points, but it’s also a slight weakness, isn’t it? His stalwartness and his passion haven’t changed from 2199 to 2202. But as an acting captain, he finally sees everyone in Yamato’s crew properly. He’s always pressed to make choices while taking the crew’s thoughts into account. He always gets his solution from that. It’s the same for an actor, and I admire that in a man. I think, “I’m getting stronger.”

Yamadera: Mr. Yamadera, how about Dessler?

Yamadera: Dessler’s past becomes clear this time in 2202, and I was surprised that there was such a thing. Originally I thought of him as being born cool-headed and charismatic, moving forward as someone who would do anything to fulfill his purpose. Now I know that’s not the case.

When I look back on 2199 sometimes, I ask, “Was my performance OK?” (Laughs) I didn’t know about all this at the time, and it wasn’t in the original. I want to go back and tell myself about it. (Laughs)

He didn’t do anything to save Garmillas. He was not acting for his people, but out of his own ego and his feelings for Starsha…that’s how I understood it, but it’s deeper now, isn’t it? Therefore, Dessler looks a bit different than he did in 2199. That’s what I think. Because it turns out he had an older brother, and various thoughts come from that and his mother. I really thought, “Thank you for that.”

I can’t say much about the future, but I have a feeling that Kodai and Dessler will be more than rivals. I don’t know how to say it. Chapter 7 is pretty shocking.

Ono: That’s a difficult area. From where I stand, I don’t see the backbone Mr. Yamadera talks about. Dessler was always scary.

Yamadera: Certainly. (Laughs) You can see a little of his humanity in front of Starsha, but I felt like he could see through everything.

Ono: From where Kodai stands, that’s been the problem since the fight. He doesn’t know his true nature. But he definitely seems to have convictions, and since he acts on unwavering feelings, that’s what makes him scary. It’s literal charisma. Plausibly frightening. Since that was always there, seeing that 2202 had that backbone made me incredibly happy.

Yamadera: You could finally see, “That was it!”

Ono: Zordar says, “I am human,” But I also thought Dessler is human, too.

Yamadera: Right, right.

Ono: I came to like it a little.

Yamadera: Dessler was probably affected by Kodi. I think he almost lost sight of himself at the end of 2199, and he was changed by seeing the figure of Kodai, and Yamato’s way of fighting. Because of that, he looks at everything and asks, “How is it done?” All through 2202 I was thinking that he was trying to find an answer on what to do. I think Kodai and Yamato had some influence on him, and how he should live. That is also the “great sum.”

Ono: I was really impressed that Dessler noticed the he was also part of the “great sum.” I thought he always had a solitary existence. I didn’t think he’d ever meet his match.

Yamadera: It feels like the opposite of the great sum. So at first I wondered if I could sing the end theme for Chapter 6, Great Sum. I didn’t sing it as Dessler, but I thought about Dessler being part of the “great sum” when I did it. I think you can understand that part when you see Chapter 7.

Feeling each other’s “scary” moments

Interviewer: I’d like to hear stories about the voice recording. How did you see each other when you were acting together?

Ono: As I said earlier, my first impression of Dessler was “scary.” I didn’t know what he was thinking, but his words and backbone were very persuasive. I thought Mr. Yamadera’s voice would make me feel that way. If Yamato is a big, burning red flame, then Dessler feels like a calmly burning blue flame. Blue flame is very hot, isn’t it? That’s what I felt from Mr. Yamadera’s great performance. I was scared and I watched my back. (Laughs)

Yamadera: Oh, no, no, no. (Laughs) I was scared that I didn’t know what I was doing. (Laughs)

Ono: I didn’t know that. (Laughs) I only learned for the first time today that you were nervous.

Yamadera: We haven’t worked together much so far.

Ono: That’s right. I haven’t had many opportunities to join you.

Interviewer: After looking it up, is it just Yamato and Anpanman?

Ono: We only appeared in Anpanman a little bit. It really feels like a bang in Yamato.

Yamadera: We also recorded separately on The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. However, I’ve always heard that Daisuke Ono was an outstanding voice actor. When my appearance in 2199 was decided, I thought, “Eh? I can’t be Kodai any more?” (Laughs) Since Kei Tomiyama (the original Kodai) had died, I did an imitation of him [in the Playstation games and Yamato Resurrection]. When I got the offer for the game I tried to perform it like him. I was surprised when they said, “No it’s different this time, Daisuke Ono is Kodai and you’ll be playing Dessler.” (Laughs)

I had already seen Mr. Ono perform beautifully, and the new Yamato would be beautifully done. But Kodai is the main character and Yamato is also Kodai’s growth story, so I think that was the hardest role.

Ono: I felt the pressure. You had already played Kodai, so I was nervous when we met. But it was completely natural when you came on board. There was no Kodai there, you were completely Dessler. I was impressed by that. I shudder at the site when I see seniors come in to play their roles. So I changed my point of view to being the person who inherited Kodai. “This person is Dessler now.” That was very impressive.

Yamadera: It was really good that I sounded like Dessler. I felt pressure the whole time because the voice of Masato Ibu (the original Dessler) has been echoing in my head for a long time. By comparison, Mr. Ono was the perfect Kodai of 2199 and 2202. I never thought of him as the same person who played Riki Nendo (the character with supernatural powers in Saiki K). I really thought it was a completely different person. (Laughs) Well, I’m a guy who has performed various roles, too. (Laughs)

Ono: That’s right. (Laughs) How many different roles have you played? (Laughs)

Yamadera: I don’t do many other things, so I have no choice but to do that…so why am I whining about it? (Laughs)

(Find Mr. Yamadera’s gigantic credit list at Anime News Network here.)

Ono: If we have time, I’d like to ask Mr. Yamadera a question. I’ve read in some interviews that you don’t think your voice is anything special. Peoples’ voices don’t change very much, so that’s why I brush up on my skills and take on various roles.

Yamadera: I always think that. Because when Mr. Ono is performing Kodai, I don’t have the feeling that he’s like, “Let’s make something,” but rather he reads the script and thinks, “Kodai feels this way, and so let’s do it like this,” and he performs it in a very straightforward way. I love Mr. Ibu’s Dessler, there is naturally a part of me that wants to kill myself making it because I don’t want to lose to him. But I have to confront that feeling. That’s superficial, and I can’t give in to my feelings. And I have to bring out a presence among the amazing members of the cast. Because there was a back and forth among us where everyone was saying, “That was great!”

Ono: You certainly gave me that feeling when I was watching my back. There was a feeling of, “I can’t be defeated by you,” so I think I was a little scared.

Yamadera: No, it was a bluff. I was bluffing. (Laughs)

Ono: You had me scared. But once you finish performing, you say these nonsensical things like, “What was up with his hygiene?!” and stuff like that. (Laughs)

Yamadera: Mr. Ono and the others will say, “We’ve been around in the current industry,” and so when I feel like I’m messing up and unsure what to do, everyone is incredibly kind to me. Yet despite the tension, it’s a great venue. There’s nothing better when you’re performing. But, while we take it seriously, once we cut the recording, that harmonious feeling will return, and I’ll think how nice it is. I think it’s an incredibly ideal venue.

It was good to reach the end

Interviewer: I think the two of you have been involved in Yamato for a long time. At the end of Chapter 7, what was it like at the moment the voice recording was over?

Yamadera: I joined up in the middle, so I have no comment in this area. This will be answered by Captain Ono. I’d also like to know, how did everyone feel?

Ono: Everyone looked refreshed. That’s also what I felt, because the work had a very good ending. It overturned every expectation and went beyond what anyone imagined. I think everyone imagined what it would be like, and of course we did, too. But only the writer, Harutoshi Fukui had it in his head. When I knew the actual finale, I thought, “Soon I’ll have no choice but to do this.”

The finale may not quite be what everyone thought, but we’re all involved in Yamato, and I think it was good that we all got to this ending. After the recording, I looked around the studio and everyone was smiling widely. I was relieved to have finished a big job, but I didn’t feel tired. Everyone had a very bright look. I was happy as both a captain and a chairman. I thought it was good that we had traveled so far.

Interviewer: It’s wonderful that you had been working on such a great work, and your last impression was, “This is good.”

Ono: As expected, Yamato went through a lot of serious hardships, and there was no one who wanted to travel farther. We were all happy to have gotten to the end.

Interviewer: I’m sure this is something you’ll reflect on from now on.

Ono: I really think so. Of course, there have been some works that I thought were really hard, and that also becomes part of the memory. “I poured everything I had into it! I did it!” It’s a sense of accomplishment. I’m happy that I’ve done it. It’s really full of such thoughts. At the [September 2016] production presentation, Mr Fukui said, “I wouldn’t write a story with no hope.” It was hard, but it was good to reach the end. I think the people who watch it will think so, too.

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