Just before Yamato reached its 20th anniversary in 1994, LB Nakasu Communication magazine published a rare cover story on its impending comeback. In addition to an interview with Exec Producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki (which can be read here), its main feature article was this capsule history of Yamato‘s impact on Japan.
Space Battleship Yamato: a thorough analysis of its appeal
Part 1: Battleship Yamato revives and flies across the sea of space…this form captivated all of Japan
The Battleship Yamato was considered the greatest masterpiece of shipbuilding. It is said that it was loaded with only enough fuel for a desperate one-way voyage. After shouldering such a tragic episode, it now sleeps off the coast of Bogasaki. For some reason, the Japanese still hold deep feelings for this great ship, and then those grand, romantic dreams were carried off into the ocean called “space”…
The anime Space Battleship Yamato aired just 20 years ago. In its first TV broadcast, it ran behind the popular program Heidi Girl of the Alps, so its planned 52 episode run was quietly reduced to 26. However, its popularity increased every time it was rerun, and five feature films were eventually made (the sixth will be released next year) and it became a huge hit. [Translator’s note: this was a reference to Yamato Resurrection, which was initially announced for 1995.] Hundreds of boys and girls lined up the night before the first premiere to get free cells. Its distribution set records in the history of Japanese movies. If you’re currently in your 20s or older, everyone around you knows the title Space Battleship Yamato.
Why did this title become so well known? Needless to say, the main character of Space Battleship Yamato is Yamato itself, the giant ship flying through space. The Battleship Yamato was reborn as a battleship that flies through the sky…was this idea itself a factor that made it a hit? Wasn’t everyone fascinated by Producer Nishizaki calling it Space Battleship Yamato, and artist Leiji Matsumoto drawing not just a battleship in space, but also the C62 type steam locomotive [in Galaxy Express 999]? We all thought of Yamato as sailing with a one-way ticket, but in Space Battleship Yamato we felt like we were watching a story of its desire to come back to Earth. Therefore, the narration “Yamato, Earth is waiting for your return” shook our hearts every time we heard it in the first TV series.
Another major factor of Yamato becoming a hit is that it was accepted by a wide range of age groups. Some are attracted to giant heroes, some project themselves into the characters, and some even dreamed of boarding Yamato themselves. So, regardless of age and gender, we poured our feelings into Space Battleship Yamato. It must be because of the romantic dreams we’ve all had since being born into this world, and the love we all wish for that lies at the heart of this magnificent story.
Therefore, it should never be dismissed as “just anime.” Just as the shipbuilding staff at Kure Port once gathered all the power of a nation to build a huge, unprecedented battleship called Yamato, Space Battleship Yamato “gave dreams to people” because of the passion of those who made it.
Part 2: The thing that keeps Yamato appealing throughout the series…is “love”!
Space Battleship Yamato depicts various kinds of love throughout the series. Here we look back at the love of characters in the story by following famous lines.
“We should never have fought them. We should have shown them we cared! Victory tastes like ashes!”
In Episode 24 of Part 1, Susumu Kodai shouts this while looking out at the ruined landscape of Gamilas. It’s a scene that shows the magnificence of space love, saying everyone in space should have held out their hands.
“Earth, it’s all so nostalgic.”
These are the last words of Captain Juuzo Okita in the last episode of Part 1, in the peaceful death scene of this old commander who continued fighting and unified the ship. He holds in his hand a photograph of his deceased family. It is a line that appeals to eternal love for your hometown. At that moment, Yuki Mori revives from a deathlike state to inherit his soul.
“Please fight them and win. I know you will, Susumu…”
These were Yuki Mori’s words of encouragement to her beloved fiancée Susumu Kodai in Farewell to Yamato. It is said that many viewers wept as she quietly breathed her last with pride for the one she loved.
“Yuki, we will be married and become a star in eternal space. Yuki, this is our wedding ceremony.”
Susumu Kodai, who was appointed as the deputy captain in Farewell, says this after deciding to plunge Yamato into the enemy warship. This is his first confession of love as a man after previously declaring love for Earth and space. It was a very sad ending for two people who had launched from Earth three days after postponing their wedding.
“You have shown your courage and love. Now come with me.”
At the end of Farewell, Teresa says this after Kodai’s words described above. She sympathizes with the love for both humanity and for space displayed by Yamato’s crew, and dedicates her life to Yamato’s final charge.
“You know your sins now. The feeling spreads through all of space, and will one day surely create a human race that cherishes life. Goodbye, Susumu, my handsome young uncle…”
At the end of Be Forever Yamato, Sasha appears in space with this lingering thought after sacrificing herself, speaking of the importance of life and her feelings of love toward Kodai, who is actually her uncle. It’s a line that inherits the spirit of Iscandarians, who place importance on a self-sacrificing love.
“Earth, I pray for those children. Yamato, let’s go to the warriors who died fighting for Earth.”
These are the last lines of Captain Okita in Final Yamato, who decides to save Earth by going down with the ship. He refers to the crew as his children and prays to mother Earth for their future, which you can see as the love of a great father. Okita also sees Yamato as an equal partner and talks to it like a friend. It’s a great scene where Okita’s life feels as great as a giant ship.
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A staff and cast that transcends the limits of anime
Another factor of the Space Battleship Yamato series becoming a hit was the appointment of an extravagant cast and staff that transcends the limits of anime. Since music is described in a separate section, here we will introduce the staff and cast.
First, the director. It is known in particular that Toshio Masuda worked as the general director on the first movie, Be Forever Yamato, and Final Yamato. He is a master craftsman well known in the Japanese movie world for films starring Yujiro Ishihara, such as Rusty Knife, Red Wharf, Red Handkerchief, Life Theater, Hill 203, Company Funerla, and The Great Sins of Heaven.
Kazuo Kasahara, one of the best scriptwriters in Japan, participated in the screenplay for Final Yamato. His was the hand that penned the screenplay masterpiece Battles Without Honor and Humanity.
Because there is a scene in Farewell to Yamato where Yuki Mori appears in plain clothes, international fashion designer Yukiko Hanai was appointed. Character designers often design costumes, but it is said that she was hired because the producer said, “The male staff doesn’t know about women’s clothing.”
In addition to the above-mentioned staff members, Yamato’s voice cast is also luxurious. Most members of the main cast are now well-known anime voice actors, such as Masato Ibu (now known as Masato Itake) as Dessler, leader of the Gamilas Empire throughout the series. He actually played two roles, also voicing the commander of the Earth Defense Forces.
Be Forever Yamato featured Nachi Nozawa [as Alphon], famous for being a radio DJ and dubbing the voice of French actor Alain Delon. Other actors from stage and screen were cast in Final Yamato, such as Tatsuya Nakadai [narrator], Reiko Tajima [Queen of Aquarius] and Masane Tsukayama [Lugal II].
Part 3: A musical score called Roman! You can’t talk about Yamato without talking about the music
One of the great attractions of the Yamato series is its music. The soundtracks of overseas movies often find their way onto the music charts, but we don’t often hear about Japanese soundtracks even appearing in the top ten. It’s not like Godzilla is the only music we hear in Japanese cinema. That’s fine up to a point, but there is certainly a tendency for music to become secondary in Japan. But it was different with Yamato. From the production stage of the first TV series, music was created to suit each theme according to the producer’s intentions. This commitment captured the hearts of many people, and Isao Sasaki’s single for the Yamato theme became a hit record with 800,000 copies.
The commitment to music on the production side can be seen by looking at the magnificent staff that was involved. As for the main staff, Hiroshi Miyagawa was the composer and Yu Aku wrote song lyrics. This composer had worked on everything from enka [folk ballads] to pop songs, and this songwriter had received numerous record awards. It can be said that together they made Yamato the type of work that you couldn’t talk about without mentioning the music. As the series progressed, other famous staff members were added such as Composer Kentaro Haneda and Lyricist Yoko Yamaguchi.
Yamato was famous not only for its writing and composing, but also for the efforts that were put into the singing. In addition to Isao Sasaki, who had been appointed from the start, there were other amazing participants: Kenji Sawada, Akira Fuse, Hiromi Iwasaki, and Junko Yagami. But even more surprising was Chiyoko Shimakura, the grand empress of enka [folk ballads]. Throughout the Yamato series, it was said that the making of melodies proceeded with an emphasis on themes, which is why Chiyoko Shimakura was appointed. In The New Voyage, she performed Sasha, My Love, a song that expresses the thoughts of Starsha, who entrusted her child Sasha to her husband after being scattered into space alone. Science fiction and an enka singer may seem like a strange combination, but it mysteriously matches up when you see it.
There were about 20 types of singles and LPs, which sold a total of more than 5.5 million copies. When taking this amazing number into account, it’s hard to imagine that they were only collected by maniacs and otaku. It’s much more logical to run with the idea that the commitment to integrate music with scenes led the audience to say, “I want to listen to this music again and again.” For example, if you listen to Tara’s Theme from Gone With the Wind, it evokes the image of Scarlett O’hara standing in a desolate field. Just by listening to the BGM, you can see the bold figure of Yamato floating in space. In other words, the romance of Space Battleship Yamato is very much alive in the music, and we are instinctively intoxicated by it.
Part 4: Various booms and cultures were born from the hit of Yamato
Triggered by the Space Battleship Yamato boom, the words “TV manga” and “manga movie” were changed to “TV anime” and “theatrical anime.” With this as an example, Yamato was a pioneer of various things. A wide variety of trends and booms were born from Yamato, and new cultures were formed. Here we’d like to take up some of these new cultures and trends.
The arrival of the big anime boom
Before Yamato, TV animation was thought of as “something children watch,” but then we reached a time of great change. As mentioned above, anime was called “TV manga” until then, but with the advent of the first Yamato as something adults could enjoy, the word animation gained a citizenship equal to film. As more anime appeared on TV following the hit of Yamato, every TV station came to broadcast anime at golden time [the TV broadcast block just before prime time] as we entered the 80s.
Improving the status of anime in theaters
Overlapping with the mass production era of anime for TV, theatrical anime also increased after Yamato. Until then, Toei made theatrical animation for children, such as Puss in Boots. Mushi Productions made works for adults, such as Cleopatra. Both were focused on their target audience, so they could not become national hits. But even though Yamato was anime, it proved to be a national hit across age groups. After this, a lot of anime was produced for theaters, and status improved to the extent that anime became the equal of live-action Japanese films. Speaking of which, Hayao Miyazaki’s successful anime films such as Nausicaa and Totoro may never have been born if not for the change brought by Yamato. By the way, the first anime movie to earn a cover story from the long-established Kinejun movie magazine was Farewell to Yamato. That issue recorded the highest number of copies sold.
The phenomenon of lining up all night
A group lined up all night when the popular new computer game Dragonquest was released…many people should remember news reports like this. When was the trend born for “staying up all night in a vigil for something I like?” It began the night before the first Space Battleship Yamato feature film was released [in 1977]. Back then, a theater’s opening time was moved up to 6:00am for an all-nighter group of 500 people. Furthermore, when Farewell was released, over 1,000 fans lined up the night before, so a theater took the unusual measure of opening at 4:00am.
The birth of fan clubs
The Yamato boom gave birth to both anime fans and fan clubs. As explained in the previous paragraph, you could see from the “lining up” phenomenon that people became enthusiastic about anime. This age group centered around mid-teens and college students. These days we hear, “Ask high school students for their impressions in order to make something a hit” or “Nothing is more effective than advertising to teenagers,” so the power of this age group is amazing. Yamato was what triggered them to start Yamato fan clubs and anime fan clubs large and small (all anime, specific works or characters, voice actors, etc.) with great speed all over Japan. Because Yamato’s producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki was someone who listened to the voice of the fans (until then, anime producers seemed to be unaware of them) the movement grew stronger and resulted in Yamato becoming a hit.
Thanks to the presence of these fans, anime magazines such as Tokuma Shoten’s Animage were launched. In addition, original newsletters and fanzines were created by fans themselves. This trend later led to the founding of Comiket and the building of a huge culture. More than calling them anime fans, this came to be called an anime mania, and some are referred to as anime otaku.
The hit of spinoff products
Popular anime such as Crayon Shinchan and Sailor Moon now lead to popular anime goods. Sponsors make decisions with product sales like this in mind, which obviously leads to the decisions to produce and broadcast anime. Space Battleship Yamato was also the beginning of this trend. The total number of Yamato products and books (including deluxe books) is approximately 800. This kind of purchasing power is derived from a hit anime, which was unimaginable 20 years ago. Among other related products, a boom in model kits for battleships and fighter planes followed the popularity of Yamato and its aircraft, leading to big sales of such model kits as the Battleship Yamato, Battleship Musashi, and Zero fighter.
Anime runs overseas
A big Japanese animation boom is currently happening in America. Various anime works have been imported overseas, and have captured the hearts of children and anime fans from other countries. In the case of Yamato, the first feature film was actually made for overseas audiences [in 1976], and it is said that production of a Japanese version resulted from the voice of the Japanese fans who wanted to see it. It was titled Space Cruiser in America. In Hong Kong, it was titled Strange Sky Ship. In Taiwan, it was simply titled Space Battleship. The pirated manga even became a hit, especially in Southeast Asia.
A view of SF beyond the limits of anime
Until Yamato was aired on TV, Mazinger Z was considered the mainstream of science-fiction anime. Tatsunoko’s Gatchaman was the real top SF of the time. However, Yamato’s production staff showed their commitment to SF and greatly shifted the idea of what constituted real SF in anime.
Before then, the mainstream image of space battles included streamlined UFOs, but when there’s a war you need an aircraft carrier, and you also need a feeling of what’s up and down in the weightlessness of space. Yamato clearly showed details in that area and went beyond the limits of anime simply because of that. Yamato was widely accepted by SF fans. Also, methods for traveling in space had been expressed by various names until then, but with the appearance of Yamato it settled on the term “warp.”
LB Nakasu Communication, August 1994 issue
Yamato chronology and records
TV broadcast starts, 26 episodes. Average audience rating 6%
The third rerun leads to an enthusiastic boom.
Theatrical version released, fans line up all night for the premiere. More than 500 people lined up in the middle of the night. Theaters rushed to open at 6am. There were 2.3 million viewers.
Fan club formed. In addition to the headquarters, 823 organizations existed.
Live drama on-air on All Night Nippon. A rare rebroadcast followed.
Music popularity also ripens. Total LP sales exceed 800,000.
A rerun starts after the production announcement for Farewell. Average audience rating 13.8%.
Space Battleship Yamato movie is broadcast on CX. Average audience rating 31.9%, peak rating 35.6%.
Farewell is released. Long lines at all theaters before dawn. Lines of nearly 1,000 people. An anime movie becomes a long-run hit, playing from August 5 to October 27. Box office revenue of 4.3 billion yen. Advance ticket sales total half a million. 4 million viewers. Fan club membership reaches 16,244 members.
TV series Yamato 2 broadcast starts, 26 episodes. Audience rating tops 20%, peaks at 27.9%. Average rating 22.9%.
TV feature The New Voyage is broadcast. Audience rating 30.6%.
Calferry holds a big event for 3 days and 2 nights [promotional sea cruise]. 33,000 applications are received. 14,000 people form a 2km line for the ticket lottery.
Be Forever Yamato is released August 2. 2.3 million viewers. Distribution income reaches 1.35 billion yen by the end of September.
TV series Yamato III starts, 25 episodes. Average audience rating 15.4%.
Space Roadshow double feature opens [first two films]. 1.5 million viewers.
Final Yamato premieres in March. 1.6 million viewers.
Footnotes: Communications from “Dr. Yamato“
Yamato comedy scene 1
In a strategy meeting of Gamilas officers in Part 1, a certain officer jokes, “I like the president, too!” Dessler gets angry at this, says “Gamilas has no need of vulgar men,” and puts him to death. That’s harsh.
Yamato comedy scene 2
In The New Voyage, Kitano and Sakamoto board Yamato for the first time, both full of confidence. To punish them, Deputy Captain Susumu Kodai orders them to both run around the ship in their underpants.
Yamato comedy scene 3
Yamato is a self-sufficient ship with a “Yamato farm” supervised by Yuki Mori, head of the life support group. In the TV series Yamato 2, soldiers in Hajime Saito’s infantry devour the farm’s tomatoes and get a good tongue-lashing from Yuki!
Yamato comedy scene 4
In the first series, there is a scene where Yamato’s crew communicates with their families on Earth. Yuki Mori’s parents try to arrange a marriage for their daughter, and when they see Engineer Tokugawa at Yuki’s side, they splutter, “Is that old man your lover?”
There was no kissing scene until Final Yamato, which contained a bed scene with Kodai and Yuki. (Cut from the TV broadcast!) According to production materials, it was all related to virginity and seems to have centered around that.