Nobuyoshi Habara is one of us. By that, I mean that he is a dedicated fan of Space Battleship Yamato who would be following it avidly if he didn’t happen to be working on it. His name first came to my attention for his work on Yamato Resurrection, but his credits go back much farther than that.
Born in 1963, he was exactly the right age to absorb Yamato Series 1 and grow up with the anime medium that expanded afterward. He joined the industry at the ripe old age of 20 as an animator for two SF mecha TV series, Mission Outer Space Srungle and Special Powered Armor Dorvack.
This set the tone for a busy career in SF anime which allowed Habara to rack up credits in character design, art direction and storyboarding on such titles as Dancougar, Machine Robo, Ai City and Shurato. He got his first directing job on Martian Hunter Nadesico in 1996 and continued on with Zoids (1999), his own project DNAngel (2003), the mega-popular Full Metal Alchemist (2003), and Gurren Lagann (2007). He also spent some time in America as a director on the opening title for Megaman (1994) and Skysurfer Strike Force (1995).
Habara finally found his way into the Yamato universe as the mecha animation director on Resurrection and he-co-directed the Resurrection Director’s Cut with Makoto Kobayashi. He generously provided us with a huge collection of his image boards for the film, which are shown throughout this page. He went on to direct two episodes for Yamato 2199, a job he was practically born to do.
That’s the quickest way to sum up Nobuyoshi Habara the animator. As for Nobuyoshi Habara the Yamato fan, his own words (translated from a commentary in the Yamato Ship’s Log magazine) tell the story better than anyone could…
Thoughts of Space Battleship Yamato
1974. When I was a 5th grader in elementary school, anime was still called “TV manga” and “manga movies.” I was beginning to have a dream of becoming an animator in the future, but at the time things were said like, “Do you still watch manga even in the upper elementary grades?” and you would never see an adult reading Jump. [Translator’s note: Jump is a family of manga magazines for various age groups.]
In such times, a tremendous work was broadcast: Space Battleship Yamato.
Like everyone else reading this, I was shocked and shaken. “There are this many days left until the extinction…” I waited for the next week’s broadcast as that narration and caption made my heart race. I already had a drawing mania, but it was a unique work that got me interested in the story and production.
The story was loaded with a feeling of SF at is base, and wonderful lines like when Kodai and Yuki took that souvenir photo. Additionally, the captain wanders aimlessly around the ship and is scolded by the head cook. The chief engineer, considered to be the top man, is confused by a communication machine.
Contrasting Emperor Dessler’s cool-headedness with the military-man quality of Commander Domel and the middle-manager Hisu, the character drama and the story overflowed with endless appeal. The barrage of the mechanic group and the technical terms with deep SF tones gave it more than enough power to attract an audience at the time.
“Yamato comes out of the distance, the area of the pulse lasers passes in front of the camera, and before long it flies away out of sight.” This is a personal memory, but it’s called a BANK in industry jargon [editor’s note: the English-language equivalent for this is “stock shot”]. It became a familiar scene, and was material suitable to teach in “flip manga” form when there was no home video. I remember drawing it on many notes one after another without tiring of it.
Time flowed by, and in 1977 I suddenly met Yamato again in a magazine called Monthly OUT. After that it became a theatrical movie and as everyone knows it spread out in a large boom. For the first time in my life, I cried in a movie theater when I saw Farewell to Yamato. Whether or not they admit it, everyone cried.
I drew Yamato on a New Year’s Card which I sent to a friend the next year. That friend carefully preserved the postcard, and here it is. Although it is a poorly-drawn picture by a junior high student, I remember the thought and feeling I put into it. Time passed, and I did not think the day could possibly come when I myself would become involved with a work called Yamato.
Together with the staff members who were there with Mr. Nishizaki at the beginning, all my memories of Yamato are important to me.
Conducted by Tim Eldred with Nobuyuki Sakurai, translation by Rina Lee
Tuesday, May 8 2012
What was your first encounter with Yamato?
When I was 10, I saw the first series on TV. I started from the first episode, and I was very shocked by the appearance of the red Earth. It started with a battle, and I had never seen such a realistic one before in anime, so I was surprised and shocked at the same time. I had no previous knowledge of Yamato, I just turned on the TV and there it was.
That was a lucky meeting then. Were you already thinking of becoming a professional animator, or did you decide that after seeing Yamato?
I watched Mazinger Z just before Yamato came out, and both made me start thinking of becoming a professional animator when I was 10.
I assume you watched Yamato all the way to the end. Was it a special time for you every Sunday night, to watch a new one?
Of course! Every week!
Were there any episodes that you missed?
There are stories about how there was sometimes a battle in the family when some wanted to watch Yamato and some wanted to watch Heidi.
In my hometown, Heidi was broadcast on a different day, so my home was peaceful. (Laughs)
After Yamato finished, was there another anime you really liked?
There were so many, and I really loved robot anime. I was a big fan.
Did you see all the movies and all the other Yamato TV series?
All of them, all the way through, except the director’s cut of Final Yamato. I was already working then, so I didn’t have time to see it. It only played for a short time.
Then you became a professional animator before Yamato finished, correct?
Until Yamato III [1980-81] I was a student, then I became an animator.
And many years later you worked on Yamato Resurrection. What was it like to get a chance to work on the favorite?
My dream came true and I was speechless!
What were the highlights of making Resurrection?
I got in a fight with Producer Nishizaki. (Laughs) One day in the staff room, everyone else had finished fighting with him, and it was my turn. There’s a scene where Kodai goes to help Miyuki. I tried to tell Mr. Nishizaki it was wrong for Kodai only to help her and no one else, but he said no. He didn’t explain it or give a reason, he just said no.
Now I think maybe Mr. Nishizaki wanted to make Kodai and Miyuki more special to each other.
Sakurai: Japanese fans also wonder about that scene. Maybe there should be some official explanation for it.
Nobuyuki Sakurai (left) with Nobuyoshi Habara
Did you think about changing that scene in the Director’s Cut?
In the Director’s Cut there’s one line where Kodai looks at a sensor and wonders if anyone is there. That indicates that he at least cares about other people. Many fans had questions about certain scenes and we tried to talk about it with Mr. Nishizaki, but we always got the same reply. We wanted to change some things in the DC, but he wouldn’t allow it.
What was your position and responsibility on the first version?
I was the mechanic director. I read the script and drew image boards and storyboards. When you look at the storyboard there are two different styles; mine and Takeshi Shirato’s. And Shinya Takahashi did most of the animal scenes. At the studio, Mr. Shirato checked everything and showed it to Mr. Nishizaki. If there was a change, he asked me to revise it.
Usually a director draws the storyboard, but Mr. Nishizaki couldn’t draw. Sometimes Mr. Shirato would do it, but he asked me to do it most often. Occasionally he asked us both to do it, and he picked the one he liked better. It became a competition.
But when he saw my image boards he understood how much I loved Yamato. There’s a scene I developed on Aquarius, where Sanada gives Okita’s old hat to Kodai. I developed that scene, but it’s only in the image boards, not the finished film.
There are always casualties in a storyboard. Sometimes there are more casualties than finished scenes. What were some of the highlights of making the Director’s Cut?
We made it to connect to the next one. Mr. Nishizaki originally wanted the movie to end as it does in the Director’s Cut, but the audience chose the “good” ending instead of the “bad” one. The original “bad” ending was very short and not very specific, so we didn’t quite know what Mr. Nishizaki really wanted to do with it. But in the Director’s Cut, I think we discovered his will in that ending sequence.
You took more time with it and made a better version.
That’s right. We tried to get it closer to what he wanted it to be.
The first version of that scene still hasn’t been seen by the public outside that preview.
It might still appear as a bonus feature somehow in the future.
Will you be involved in the next movie, if it gets made?
I’d love to do it if I get the chance and everyone wants to see my version of Yamato. Makoto Kobayashi was the key person in the middle on the Director’s Cut and he decided what to do, so the next one would be hard to do without him. I’d love to work with him again in a partnership if it’s possible.
Sakurai: After seeing the ending of the Director’s Cut, I think you two should definitely work together.
What can you tell me about your work on Yamato 2199?
I’m going to direct episodes 9 and 19.
Will they have the same story as the original 9 and 19?
They will be completely different. When they are seen by Yamato fans all over the world, it will be something they never expected. When you see episode 9, it will bring something new to Yamato.
Sakurai: Many Yamato fans don’t watch other anime, only Yamato. So it will be a big surprise for them.
But even if the story is different, the heart of Yamato will not change.
Are you contributing to other episodes, or just those two?
Only 9 and 19 right now. Resurrection and 2199 started at the same time, and when I finished my work on Resurrection, 2199 was already supposed to be finished, but it wasn’t. So at first I wasn’t supposed to be involved at all.
It’s a dream come true for you. You got to work on the last part, and then come around to the first part.
Yes! Everyone making 2199 watched the original on TV and we know it really well, so you won’t have to worry about anything. We know what to do with it.
Your title on 2199 is “director,” correct?
When I direct on a TV series, we usually have a rotation of three episodes. So, for example, I would do #3, #6, #9, etc. But yours are ten episode apart! Are there more directors in your rotation?
It takes a really long time to finish an episode, so it would be impossible for me to do #9 and then #12, so they have to be ten episodes apart. When I finish #9, #19 will be the next one to come up. We have 18 directors in all.
Is that difficult for Mr. Izubuchi to manage?
Everyone loves Yamato, so it’s not that hard. They’re all experts.
How is TV production similar to and different from movie production?
The similar part is that both are really hard work. Sometimes in the animation there is a mistake that no one would notice, but we will still fix it. Even the tiniest things, we still want to fix them. We can’t just leave them.
Yamato Resurrection was really unique, not like other films. On that, the hardest part was working with Mr. Nishizaki. He would say something one day, and then something totally different the next day. It was really hard to follow his thinking. Even when he was working on the original Yamato, everyone thought he wasn’t like a typical Japanese person, since he did nothing the Japanese way.
That’s what it took to make something so different. It takes a unique person to make a unique work.
That’s right. It was his style to follow his heart.
So how is the production of the TV series different from the movie?
There are many more deadlines in TV production, so when we want to fix something there usually isn’t enough time and we have to give up. But this time, we don’t have to give up. We can do everything.
Do you prefer movies over TV?
A film is usually only two hours long, but the TV series will total 26 episodes, so we can put a lot more into it.
Then is TV better than film, or just different?
They both have their good sides and bad sides, so I can’t really choose one over the other.
As of now, the first 2199 movie has been seen and the second one is about two months away, so where are you at this point in the production?
I’m only involved in the third part. On episode 9, the voice recording is already finished but I’m still working on the animation. We used to finish with the voice recording, but these days we have to do it earlier.
How do you feel about the reception for the first 2199 movie?
When we work on animation we do our best, but we’re still concerned about little things. When we found out what people thought of it, they were very kind and generous, so I’m very happy about it.
Everyone seems to love it. A few American fans were able to get the special blu-ray from movie theaters, and everyone who’s seen it is very happy with it.
As a director, when I hear the fans really like it, it’s empowering.
Fuel in your tank! What would you like to see happen with Yamato after 2199?
COMET EMPIRE!! It should be called 2201, but after our experience with the 2011 earthquake, it seems like one year is too short to rebuild everything. So maybe it would be called Yamato 2205.
In the original saga, they had to save the Earth six times in five years. It must have been the worst time to be a human being. (Laughs)
This is the first time American fans can read your words in print. Is there something you’d like to tell them?
I was a regular fan like them when I was younger, and now I’m directing, but my heart is still the same as the fans who love Yamato, so I want you all to watch 2199 and love it to the end! I’m looking forward to seeing it, too!
Click here to see the entire set of Habara’s image boards for Yamato Resurrection:
Read our post-series interview with Mr. Habara here