Harutoshi Fukui Speaks: “Yamato/Gundam Theory”
What’s the difference in SF anime? What’s next after finishing Gundam NT and Yamato 2202?
Space Battleship Yamato and Mobile Suit Gundam have had a major impact on Japanese anime history, and novelist Harutoshi Fukui created the latest remakes of both. Yamato 2202 Chapter 7 premiered on March 1, 2019, and Gundam NT was released in November 2018. Both became hits. Mr. Fukui is currently active in series composition, planning and writing films that include animation.
What kinds of thoughts did he put into Yamato and Gundam? We talked about how these two works compare from different angles.
Interview by Makoto Ishii, published March 27, 2019 at Anime Anime
Constructing a Gundam story with the recognition of “creating history”
Interviewer: In Yamato 2202, Gundam UC, and Gundam NT, you created stories with SF world views that depicted war in the background. What parts were you most conscious of when creating each work?
Fukui: Gundam is “history.” The history of humanity in what is called the Universal Century, when people begin living in space. It’s less than 100 years. If it was a history that spanned 1,000 or 2,000 years, I think any kind of technology could be depicted, but if less than 100 years of history have passed, you can imagine what happens in such a short period of time, and what problems arise.
Gundam is a work that depicts the problems of history, isn’t it? Moreover, I didn’t create this “history” by myself, it already exists as a history with a chronological time table. Psychologically, I think creating Gundam is similar to the depiction of history by Eiji Yoshikawa and Kenzo Kitakata in their interpretations of The Three Kingdoms.
You might say that Gundam is fiction and something that didn’t actually happen, but have you ever met someone who appeared in The Three Kingdoms? No one has, and the story of such a hero would basically be fiction to begin with. Because it is fictitious, it’s possible to spin it into something as real as human history. I think Gundam is interesting because it can be made with such a critical mind.
Interviewer: Are you saying that Gundam is as attractive as something historical?
Fukui: I wondered if something historical could be interesting when I wrote the novel called Lorelei at the End of the War. Because that felt like a possibility to me, I had no resistance in going from there to Gundam. To put it in words, it’s a sense that an actual historical war with only minor popularity is easier to turn into genre material than a more major historical event. If you can write something historical with such a critical mind, it doesn’t matter if it’s real or fictitious.
Space Battleship Yamato is depicted as a symbol of the Japanese spirit
Interviewer: As for Yamato 2202, does it present a different sensibility?
Fukui: I’m not conscious of any part of history in Yamato 2202. The recognition is that only the concept of Space Battleship Yamato exists. The movie Farewell to Yamato was a huge hit when it was made forty years ago, so how could it be revived for the modern age? What could be presented to the people of today when it’s revived? When I thought about that, I realized that if it wasn’t a remake of Farewell to Yamato, then I couldn’t do it.
If it wasn’t Farewell, but instead a so-called sequel to the Yamato remake that started from zero, I think there are others who could do it better than me. The work from forty years ago had a supreme finale that made the fans of that time shed tears, and when I realized that this would be watched by young people today, I thought it would be an interesting situation for the two generations to align, so I took the job. In that sense, Yamato 2202 is not history or science-fiction, it’s sort of like “satire.”
Interviewer: Part of it is like a mirror that reflects the times.
Fukui: That’s right. You could say that it brings up present-day Japan, focusing on Yamato. The battleship called Yamato is a form of the Japanese spirit, isn’t it? The [original] production team was made up of men who were impressionable boys at the end of World War II, and when they reached a certain age at which they could create their favorite work, they made a space romance that asked, “Is that what the war was all about?”
Interviewer: The name Yamato carries some weight, doesn’t it?
Fukui: Currently we live in peace, but you still can’t win unless you push others aside, including in the [college] entrance exam war. The situation of struggling to survive goes on. The first work of Space Battleship Yamato was made with the thought of, “We made it to the end of the war, but shouldn’t we try to love and understand each other so there are no more wars?”
In the story of Farewell to Yamato only a year has passed [since the previous story], and they tried to exactly depict the “post war” era after the war with Gamilas. When the 70s ended, the 80s were when the decadent retirement bubble period began, and this situation made you think, “Is this really as good as it gets?” Then a powerful enemy appears as a huge, moving white comet that says, “Obey globalism.” This great story was created in defiance, where they crash into the enemy and die saying, “I don’t want to obey. I’d rather die than lose my humanity.”
If you were to say that in the modern day, it can be perceived by adults like us who are pinned down by the principle that money is power. If that happens, maybe we can recover something we previously lost, and it could become a story that reconfirms whether it actually was lost. In any case, if it wasn’t a mirror that reflects the present day, I think it would be meaningless.
So Yamato 2202 feels like it faithfully follows the line of satire in that the work called Yamato embodies society. Therefore, Yamato may be different from the context of SF, though SF is actually satirical of major structures, and I think it has a component of criticism.
Gundam and Yamato stories “expand and contract”
Interviewer: On the other hand, I feel that in Gundam NT, Director Yoshiyuki Tomino’s Newtype theory is taken a step further. Were you conscious of that?
Fukui: In Gundam NT, the Newtype concept that was only a mind theory is replaced by a specific theory captured by the people in the story. It isn’t an advancement of the earlier mind theory. As the characters say, many people understand the phenomenon but don’t pay much attention to the reason behind it. Then someone who can move a mobile suit very powerfully is said to be a Newtype. That is far from what Director Tomino presented.
In the movie world, now matter how Newtypes are chewed up, there’s no reflection on it. The actions of the movie world and the actions of the real world have a sad synchronicity. That’s why Newtypes are used up and spat out, like in a game. If so, once you put it into words like, “I’m trying to gather up what has been done so far,” you become a little more aware of it. It feels like that. So when it comes to the expression of the Newtype, it’s not consciously adding anything, it’s a feeling of performing a “commentary” on something as it’s happening.
Interviewer: When I hear the story of Yamato 2202, it expands widely whereas Gundam NT is focused on people, and there’s a contrasting image of “contraction and expansion.” Do you have that impression?
Fukui: Since I was involved in both works at the same time, I was conscious that it would be boring if they both did the same thing. As you say, Yamato 2202 is a story that expands widely, but you can expect the Chapter 7 finale to converge on individuals after developing with amazing momentum.
By contrast, Gundam NT seems to pare down to a minimal area, but a Gundam finally flies out into the galaxy for the first time in Gundam history. It’s going far and wide, so in a way it is symmetrical.
Interviewer: We’ve talked about how expanding and contracting are different, but the themes you’re trying to depict are surprisingly similar.
Fukui: It is similar. After all, the basis for both was born at the same time in the 70s. Both Yamato and Gundam reflected new age culture after it absorbed hippy culture in those days, and both were made under that influence. The ideas are somewhat similar. It’s the same with Star Wars.
Seeing the differences between Gundam and Yamato by comparing their characteristics
Interviewer: Regarding both Yamato and Gundam, I think there is a side that fans see as SF animation. As a creator who has worked on both, do you concern yourself with the SF part?
Fukui: In the case of Gundam, you have to make it consistent with everything else at some level. You have to dig into the part of what life is like for people in the world of the Universal Century.
When it comes to Yamato, if you ask, “Why are you sticking to the shape of seagoing ships?” there is no explanation for it. With Gundam, there’s some logic behind the reality of the mechanics like, “The two horns are antenna to search for the enemy, and with two eyes you can capture a sense of distance, long and short.” Yamato wasn’t made with such ideas to begin with. So if you try to take that part seriously and concentrate the design and the worldview around it, it would become inferior to Gundam.
So we have to fight elsewhere. Yamato sort of has the feeling of, “Once upon a time in this place…” but then we can do a “big story” simply because we have that narrative style. And if a “big story” is no big deal, then we can look at the details and see the extravagance of the world we live in now. Like a fleet war with tens of thousands of ships. That’s the basis of Yamato.
With Gundam, the world doesn’t exist in the first place and nothing moves forward unless you dig down to the point of, “Where was a certain person on this date and time?” There is such a difference.
Interviewer: In that sense, I get the impression that Yamato 2202 has a focus on dynamism that isn’t found in Gundam.
Fukui: There’s also something I think everyone is experiencing, drowning in resources that we can’t really control, so I made a point of taking the opposite approach.
Interviewer: Do you mean the current volume of social information?
Fukui: There’s that too, but going back to the situation we spoke of a moment ago, we also have enough weapons to destroy the Earth seven or eight times over. Even though we’ve been crammed into this grand fortress of science which is killing us, humans have so unconsciously grown accustomed to it that it’s almost scary. In the case of Yamato 2202, it’s a story of people who are present at the moment of breaking through such an interface, and the fear of that goes straight to the heart. Part of it is also the story of how much stress would be felt by those with the mindset of Japanese people from 40 years ago, now placed in the current environment, who understand its cruel consequences.
Unlike in those days, you can’t come to terms with society if you don’t make some sort of social compromise in your head. Like the part where Susumu Kodai worries about how to handle the Wave-Motion Gun; people in my generation feel like something has been misplaced somewhere, an honest feeling that this isn’t how the future was supposed to be, and this converges on the main character named Susumu Kodai. That structure is unique to Yamato, and all the stories are arranged in order to depict the mentality of modern Japanese people through Kodai.
With Gundam, which portrays the grand flow of societal currents and its broad framework, where an individual within it cannot change it at all, it becomes a story of what they gain and what they lose. The world isn’t established for the sake of the individual. That’s a big difference.
Interviewer: Based on that premise, what kind of ending is reached in Yamato 2202 Chapter 7?
Fukui: Farewell to Yamato, which it’s based on, was first released in theaters, and afterward it was broadcast in the form of Yamato 2 and each had a different ending. Everyone has been talking about, “Which ending will it have?” but we’ll end in a way that’s unlike both of them. Up until now, we’ve been seeing the side of how Kodai fights, but there’s something on the other side of the screen, about how he has suffered. You’ll know it when you see it, and the final choice will be addressed again.
But it’s you who has the answer. This is not a metaphor, and I’m not talking from the other side of the screen. When you’re watching the main story, I think that you’ll suddenly have the feeling that you’re a part of it. It’s not something simply imagined in fiction. Those who watch it should have been given such a choice to make just a few years ago, and I think this finale will let you think about what happened to you then.
What is the common theme of both Yamato 2202 and Gundam NT?
Interviewer: Yamato 2202 is over and your involvement with Gundam is over in Gundam NT, so how do you feel about each work in your current state?
Fukui: As far as Gundam NT is concerned, I was so pressed into joining it that it doesn’t personally feel like it’s over, even if it is over. Maybe because I think we’re moving on to the next production and that work is beginning on it, no matter what. Meanwhile, when I summarize Yamato 2202 and Gundam NT, I think they both capture “death” in a very similar way, and I think that is mentioned in the work. It doesn’t clearly define the world after death, but how do you perceive the end of life? That may be the theme in both works because I and others are now at the age where can see we’re within range of death.
It’s possible to find similar parts, because both become worlds where you can unexpectedly talk to people who have died. In the first place, what is the spiritual consciousness of the dead? In terms of life and death, there are places where both are connected. It may be interesting to compare both Gundam NT and Yamato 2202 by focusing on those parts.
Interviewer: As a creator, are you thinking, “I want to try something like this” in the future?
Fukui: As it stands now, it will be all I can do to respond to what’s been requested over the next five years, and it’s hard for me to answer a question about what I want to do.
But I definitely want to be conscious of what people of today see and hear in any form, and how the world looks a little different afterward, and I’d like to continue providing something that can be applied in reality. It can be fun on the other side of the screen, but at my store I don’t handle works that can be watched and discarded as a temporary distraction. I think the effect of fiction should be to re-evaluate yourself after watching a work.
Mamoru Oshii said that since human beings cannot see their own beginnings and endings, you make yourself a target when you see movies and fictional works with beginnings and endings. I think that’s exactly right, and I want to keep going without losing sight of that point.
Chapter 6 program book introduction
Space Battleship Yamato sinks in the Gatlantis mother world, surrounded by a thousand years of Zordar’s “love” and “despair.”
The mechanized day after tomorrow
Does everyone know the word singularity? When you translate it into Japanese, it becomes a technical point, a terrible and stiff word. As the currently-fashionable Artificial Intelligence (AI) continues to evolve, a super intelligence beyond human imagination may be born. Whether a prediction or a hypothesis, it is one way of thinking. It sounds like a distant story, but in light of recent exponential advances in AI, some say that it could happen in 2045. I am impressed once again that we live in truly remarkable times.
Whether or not a singularity actually arrives, the general public’s response to it is interesting. Will it really become a world like Ghost in the Shell? Optimistic views like ordering instant bodies seem to be in a minority, with many suggesting that if AI evolves then humans on Earth will be unnecessary. When will the Terminator arrive? Most views are pessimistic. Many experts hold similar views. For example, the late Dr. Stephen Hawking caused some controversy when he asserted that, “AI will end human civilization with 100 years.”
I can’t be the only author who thinks this should be stopped, but the real problem seems to be that the development of AI cannot be stopped. Investment in this field has already begun, because it has been incorporated into the world economy. If it is stopped now, shortfalls will happen here and there. After all, the usual routine is that we in the general public become burdened with losses that can’t be absorbed.
In an age of declining birth rates and a growing population of elderly people, AI support is indispensable, but I also do not believe that a singularity will happen as easily as they say. Considering this summer’s unusual heat and flood disasters, the sense that mankind is facing the negative consequences of all it’s done has me wanting to yell “Get it together!”
How many times can our scales accept the balance of progress and risk? Didn’t we know that pollution would be the price of postwar economic development? No, the risk generally cannot be recognized beforehand, so this is what was realized after the actual damage appeared in various places. We first accepted the concept of “inherent risk” with the rise of globalism after the collapse of the economic bubble.
With the IT revolution the Japanese-style management system based on seniority and lifetime employment was denied, and a rise in profit margin from the efficiency principle created a storm of judicial reforms that swept wildly across the country. This restructuring led to a large number of unemployed people and irregular employees, becoming the source of disparity problems that continue today. At the time, the Japanese business community accepted and advanced it.
Rather than saying “We have no choice to survive,” I and others commonly told ourselves that this was a new society. When the economic bubble collapsed, the myth of long term growth collapsed with it. Japanese people ejected into a directionless world sneered at those in the past who had believed “If you live seriously, you will be rewarded,” feeling as though they’d be consigned to oblivion.
The only way to conquer fear is to become fear itself. Saki Todo and even Zordar himself were actually the victim of a devil’s choice. Because of what they lost, they both turned their backs on their own humanity and chose a harsh path. The pain of loss is what underlies this, and the strong feeling that they don’t want to lose anything more. A person who would actually throw something away rather than losing it is a lonely figure, indeed.
Earth went to the brink of ruin in the war against Garmillas, whose own fall was imminent. Gatlantis is also driven by 1,000 years of grudge and despair. Everyone holds the trauma of loss, and in reaction they are drawn toward inhuman choices. The world has certainly changed a lot, and we cannot go back to simpler days. But I don’t want our only choice to be entrusting the fate of humanity to machines, just because it’s thought to be the best way to survive.
Haven’t numerous films and anime shown us how foolish this would be? Fiction is surely intended for self-reflection in such times.
Chapter 7 program book introduction
The breath of the universe is inherited from life to life and never ends…
Now it is “Farewell”
Consider this the strongest spoiler warning of the last three years. Please be sure to read this only after you’ve seen the story! And now that we’ve strongly emphasized this, we’ll proceed without hesitation.
How was the ending of 2202, everyone? The work speaks for itself and will be received through a rainbow of filters, so I’m not going to offer any extra explanations here. But if I were to confess one thing, it is that when I undertook this project, I was asked by the owner to comply with the following three points:
• Base it on Farewell to Yamato
• But don’t kill everyone in the end, let the main characters survive (!)
• Make everyone cry (!!)
Well, they didn’t say it directly, but…no, they did. It was close enough not to make a difference, and at that moment the words that came into my heart were, “Don’t force it.” The story of Farewell was made to converge on Kodai’s death, structured in a way that invokes tears against a cruel, shattering reality. Taking that out is like being told to make an omelet without using eggs.
But there’s the TV series Yamato 2, isn’t there? No, that stopped being Farewell to Yamato from the beginning, because it was a separate work with a different taste and theme. So it’s basically asking for a remake of Yamato 2, but both the rights-holder and the production committee were particular about calling it a remake of Farewell.
Make it impressive, but don’t let them die. It’s a writer’s bane to be subjected to this sort of thing.
My first direction was to orient it around putting “love” in the theme from the beginning. The problem was what to do with the finale. I tried getting into it without any prospects for this and began to lock horns with the main staff. I thought I was going to have a very hard time when I got down to writing it, but to tell the truth the foundation was laid unexpectedly soon.
The Time Fault was a big idea that had come up in a previous stage. Teresa was not antimatter, but a being of a higher-dimensional world. The existence of that world made for an effective payoff, and the outline for the finale went relatively smoothly. The rest of the work was to tie this development into the theme and the story.
In Farewell, Kodai had learned the emptiness of battle in the previous work, and now he was caught up in war again. It was a hellish tragedy that they could not win against the enemy by any means. It was a story in which an idealistic young man is crushed by reality and chooses death as his last act of resistance. If Kodai were to leave this harsh reality for “the other side” and then come back again, what would he have to say?
What I heard was a tired voice saying, “Please forgive me already.” Yuki would be there too, and would start over again from scratch.
When I first saw Farewell as a child, I might have innocently spoken back to that, but now that I’ve grown up, my current body having felt the pain of reality hurting me again and again, I’d be more inclined to say “Yeah, he’s right.” The reality of clinging to his ideals continues only because he has not died. Where is the meaning in returning to a world that can’t be saved no matter how much he struggles to save it? Even though his hands are already stained with blood. How do you bring such an autistic soul back to life?
It is a serious challenge, but if it could be made to land well, not only could we remake Farewell, we might possibly create a work that could still be illuminating forty years onward. After the earthquake… no, since the bubble collapsed… entrusted with the mindset of so many Japanese consciously and unconsciously trapped, if Kodai can escape his depression…
Carrying with it such grand aspirations, Yamato 2202 set sail. Then, as planned, I tormented Kodai and pushed him to the other side as you see in the finale.
The anguish, conflict, and loss that Kodai tasted is something you have also tasted in some form. The miracle that comes at the end couldn’t be the consensus of Earth, it had to be a narrow victory achieved by a narrow margin. The harsh reality of Kodai and the others is waiting for humanity on Earth. A future in which this trigger is not pulled will be hard to find.
Indeed, it’s a foolish choice. Those who know of love and the heart know what troublesome and irrational creatures we are…but there’s no need to speak of that any further. I believe it has been conveyed already, and I want to finish this two-year voyage by saying thank you for watching to the end.
Oh yes, just one more thing. Needless to say, “The future is waiting for you” is not limited to only what Kodai saw. It can be a person, a thing, or just a movie you want to watch. Without an audience, a film is incomplete. The movie will surely be waiting for you. And similarly, we filmmakers will continue to have a light to follow toward the future as we make the films you’re waiting for.
Special thanks to Neil Nadelman for translation support.