Yamatour 2019 Mission 2, part 2

Back up to Part 1

Sunday, October 13: Cleanup day

If Saturday was about watching a city in lockdown, Sunday was about watching that city come back to life. By sunup at 5-ish, the storm system had utterly vanished and a sparkly new world lay outside my window. With the trains still shut down and no noticeable traffic, Shinjuku was like an elaborate, freshly-washed movie set waiting for the crew and extras to arrive.

In fact, it was too early for anyone to be doing much of anything, but I’d collapsed early the night before and rose with the sun. With time to kill, I watched the live-action Space Brothers movie again (first time in a theater here back in 2012, now it was on my laptop) and enjoyed it far more after absorbing the story details in anime form. It wasn’t flawless – some of the performances were distractingly goofy – but the effects work was top notch and the parts that had to shine truly did. Hopefully someone will import this and give it a proper subtitling so it can take its place on your shelf of astronaut movies.

Hey there, Mr Blue! Everybody smiles at you!

It was still only 8:30am when I finished, so I got some more of the Cosmo DNA update put together and showered up to join what was now a growing throng of the curious, relieved to be released from their cages. At around 10am, I retraced my rain-soaked steps with a walk around the neighborhood to see that about half of the restaurants were open for breakfast. Signs had popped up here and there with the promise of more re-openings as the day commenced. Most importantly, train lines were being cautiously reactivated and a cavalry of delivery trucks as rolling in. I availed myself of my favorite local breakfast at Café Renoir and then mobilized.

Even Godzilla looked happier today.

We got a mighty convoy, ain’t she a beautiful sight?

Twelve trips to Tokyo, and it was the first time I ever saw this jumbotron not marketing at people.
Yesterday it was still going full blast, marketing at the typhoon.

The first destination of the day was Shibuya with its heartwarming Mandarake store. A bulletin on their website assured us that all Mandarakes would open on time at noon, and I was overjoyed to find this was true. The patient was on the road to full recovery!

Two lovely sights: a bustling Shibuya and an open Mandarake store.

I didn’t find anything I was looking for, but I did find something I wasn’t looking for, and it brought an unexpected twist to Operation Slump Search. There in a case of DVD box sets was another cheater box that looked a lot like – but not identical to – the one waiting for me at the first Book Off store. A closer look showed me that it had a different subtitle (it was the “Hoyoyo Edition” as opposed to the “N’cha Edition”) and came with a set of 15 character figures. It was about $100 more than the other box, so I decided it must have been a deluxe edition that I could bypass.

Firm in the knowledge that I’d outsmarted my prey, I moved on to other things. (Foolish, arrogant boy…)

Quick tip: if you, like me, long for the days when you could browse a proper music store and discover wonderful things by accident, I powerfully recommend Recofan. It’s on the 4th floor in the same building that houses Mandarake, and you could lose yourself in there for hours. Put it on your list if and when you can get your music-loving ass to Shibuya.

Other stores were still not open yet, so I headed back toward the train station through what was now a fully-bepersoned sidewalk that required dodging and weaving. But I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that there was more to learn about that newly-discovered Dr. Slump box. Some quick internet browsing on my phone turned up nothing conclusive. Mandarake was still close by, so I did a 180 and headed back to calm the voices in my head.

The store’s staff will take something out of a case and peel it open for you if you ask nicely, so I did and they did. The DVD box was nice and hefty, and the companion box containing the figures was even larger. The package design was dazzling. It came with a 100-page book, which I picked up to get a quick assessment of the content.

And here’s the part where I got well and truly Slump-punked. The “Hoyoyo Edition” started with Episode 121 and went all the way to the end (243). In a flash, I felt like Arale had scribbled all over my face with permanent marker, then pointed at me and laughed. This was the SECOND HALF of the series. The “N’cha Edition” at Bookoff had to be the first half. There wasn’t just ONE cheater box, there were TWO. And I had neither the funds nor the luggage space for them both.

Roundly defeated, I asked the nice staff member to return this box to the shelf, then went straight to Book Off and bought the other one. It’s beautiful and colorful and immensely satisfying…but it’s still just the first half. It was substantially cheaper than its original selling price, I got it tax free for not being Japanese (it’s a thing here), and the finished cost was probably competitive with the individual DVD sets I’d hoped to find. So…Operation Slump Search is…half done.

“N/cha Edition” acquired. Finally.

Interior disc folders.

Even now, though, there was another twist. An additional internet search (as I was writing this bit) revealed that the figure set was ALSO part 2 of 2. When the “N’cha Edition” originally went on sale, it ALSO came with a set of 15 figures. The fact that they were missing from the one I bought was probably what made it affordable. I can live without them, but COME ON. It wasn’t supposed to get this complicated!

Folder 6 contains bonus discs and a 100-page book with LOADS of English in it.
At right: the missing “N’cha Edition” figure set (pics found online).

Operation Slump Search was now concluded, and as the afternoon ticked over into its second half I scooted over to Akihabara for followup shopping and dinner with pals at Maru Go (tonkatsu of the gods, I’ll never stop saying it).


The entire day had been as different from Saturday as it could get; sunny, clear, warm, and restorative. For a day and a half, everyone had lost the infrastructure that powered this giant commerce machine, and it felt like we had all learned to appreciate it a bit more. One of the most modern cities on Earth had been subdued for a day by the fury of nature. We were reminded of our mortality, if just for a little while, and it made us more humble and considerate. I remember having that same feeling after the 1994 Northridge Earthquake (in L.A.) and, of course, in the wake of 9/11. It would be nice if we didn’t need disasters to prompt us into being more human.

If you have a long day ahead, fortify yourself with souffle pancakes with your pals. My pancake pals are
(L to R) Daniel George, Melissa Henderson (organizer of Okashicon) and anime/game producer Samantha Inoue Harte

Monday, October 14: Yamato Day

To the rest of Japan, it was a national holiday dedicated to sports and fitness. For us, it was a Yamatour day finally dedicated to Yamato! This was the one we’d based the entire trip on, and now the wait was over.

The rain was back to try and bum us out, a steady patter that would have been tolerable if not for just enough wind to get it under your umbrella and dampen you from the chest down. After a typhoon, though, this was barely a nuisance. (Incidentally, my “waterproof” shoes were still wet from my walk through the storm – over two days and counting.)

After a prizewinning dish of soufflé pancakes at a hideaway in Harajuku, there were two separate and very different Yamato activities on the day planner: visiting a true Keeper of the Flame, and absorbing the first-ever Yamato 2202 concert. We’ll go in order.

If you read the first Yamatour 2019 travelogue, you may remember the name Toshinori Watanabe. We met up with him on the final day of that trip to get acquainted and make arrangements to offer Hero’s Trajectory, his self-published Yamato books, to fans outside Japan. (He’s very grateful to everyone who purchased them, and they will be offered again soon.) When we parted in March, he said that next time I could visit him at home to see his collection in person. This was next time, and that’s exactly what happened.

We gathered at the JR station in Kichijoji: myself, Toshinori, Anton Kholodov, Yamatour pal Brad Lucido, and our “fixer” for this meeting, Minoru Itgaki (who you may have seen in the various Yamato groups on Facebook). Toshinori is as old-school as fans get, going all the way back to the real time generation. He was one of those who founded a Yamato fan club (early 80s to early 90s), during which time he was lucky enough to befriend Yoshinobu Nishizaki and receive from him a giant collection of archival materials from both the production side and the promotional side. This is what enabled to him self-publish his Hero’s Trajectory compendiums.

We took a bus ride from the station to his home, where he led us into a workshop packed full of cartons, papers, and milling machinery (his profession). Propped up and waiting for us were some flashy, large-format ad images and what was unmistakably the very first production cel of the White Comet.

But the first thing that grabbed our eyes was a very large, heavy sign that had been cut into three pieces. He explained that he had helped Columbia Music Co. to make it for a CD promotion (when the Eternal Editions came out) and afterward they were going to just throw the thing away. So he made sure that didn’t happen. This was just one of his many chances to step in at the right moment for the sake of preservation.

He’d piled up several large-format binders full of materials, but started us off with a GIGANTIC binder big enough to hold movie posters. He opened it up to reveal a perfectly-curated collection of Yamato calendars from the original production years, some extremely rare, and samples of the original artwork that was made for them. They were constructed exactly like animation cels, but at poster size.

Other binders were filled with vintage cells from 1978, which he described as reproductions. At some point, Nishizaki needed high-quality promotional images for exhibitions and publishing projects, so he directed his staff to recreate images from Farewell to Yamato with greater care than could be afforded on the film itself. This yielded dozens of “pseudo cells” that looked better than the original screen images, and they were used all over the place.

Next up was a particularly hefty binder filled with work of much greater scale; layouts and actual cels from Final Yamato. They represented peak production quality, the best-looking and most intricate Yamato ever created in the original saga. He showed us one massive image after another, pulling out the best ones for up-close inspection.

Essentially, it was a private art show. Everything in Toshinori’s collection was literally one of a kind, and it’s extremely lucky that they ended up in the hands of someone who knows their true worth. You can see some of this material in the Hero’s Trajectory books, but there’s nothing like looking at them with your own eyes. Their sheer size and majesty brings you into spiritual contact with the artists who labored over them, never imagining that these specific works would one day end up in a collector’s workshop to link the five of us across time.

Production paintings from Yamato 2, illustrating Teresa’s description of the Comet Empire.
The painting at lower right was not used.

It will come as no surprise that our cameras popped away like mad as we witnessed one masterpiece after another. Only a small percentage of those photos are shown here. More can be found in this day’s photo gallery (linked at the end of this page). For now, we’ve got a concert to catch.

Our group split up back at Kichijoji station, and we all agreed to reassemble again when Yamato brought us back together. Anton and I hopped a train down to Shibuya and made our way through the wet, crowded streets to a huge edifice called Bunkamura. I’d seen it in passing before, but now there was cause to go inside. It’s a huge department store complex attached to an entertainment center. One of the focal points is a concert venue called Orchard Hall. It was here that we would take in Yamato 2202: Close to You Tonight.

The word had gone out a week or so earlier that a merch line would open early to ease traffic later in the day. Naturally, this was a dinner bell for the diehard fans (like us) who don’t want to miss out on ANYTHING. Daniel George had arrived about half an hour before Anton and me, and was already in the long, snaky line. We recognized an occasional face from previous visits to Yamato Party and Yamaket, and were in turn spotted by them. I’d also spotted Shoji Nishizaki outside taking a smoke break. I waved and said good evening. He responded, but I have no idea if he recognized us. We did sort of stand out, though. Very few non-Japanese were in attendance.

At one point I was handed an order form to tick off what I wanted from the mercy line. This made things quick and easy; two program books and one souvenir bag, please. About 15 minutes later we’d reached the head of the line and were on our way out with full mitts. The main thing everyone had come for was the tie-in swag for the event (shown in Yamato 2202 Report 39). There was also a full lineup of 2199 and 2202 CDs and Blu-rays just in case you had a few hundred extra dollars burning a hole in your pocket. And finally, you could pre-order a Blu-ray and CD set of the concert you would soon be seeing. (Remember, media sales provide the bulk of the revenue that keeps the whole franchise going.)

Freed up for a bit, Anton and I banged around Shibuya to finish off some other shopping, then made our way back to Bunkamura about 5:30. The doors had opened at 5 and the concert would commence at 6. The lobby was already clogged with gleeful fans. One long line wrapped around a Bandai display while another was still buying the merch we’d obtained earlier. We were extremely glad to have avoided this crush, and I silently knighted whoever came up with the idea. Ser Gifted with Foresight.

The Bandai displays; photos posted on Twitter by DDS 17

The pre-show stage; photos posted on Twitter by Yosomiya

We stepped into Orchard Hall, crossing the invisible barrier where no further photos could be taken, so I have none of my own to share of the interior or the performances. But I soon found something equally worthy of sharing; unexpected news in the back of the program book.

Yamato 2205: The New Voyage now has its core staff in place. The previous writing and design teams are back in action, now led by Director Kenji Yasuda. There will be much to learn about his personal Yamato history, but for now we know that his considerable anime credits include Code Geass, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Macross Delta. (See more here.)

The lights dimmed shortly after 6pm and the musicians all made their way across a darkened stage. Even now, Akira Miyagawa was unmistakable in his sparkly vest and Beatles-era moptop. As had been foretold, this was not a symphonic concert with a large orchestra. The total number of musicians was 11, with three singers in a chorus. They opened with a version of the White Comet theme that set the musical tone for the evening: jazz with a hint of rock and easy listening.

The first piece finished and our MC appeared: Eriko Nakamura, perennial host and the voice of Mikage Kiryu (which explained Kiryu’s appearance on the key art). She introduced the performers and the first stage got started, a series of five end-theme songs. The Chapter 2 song was a cover version with the chorus substituting vocals, then the next four were all performed by their original artists. This culminated with Koichi Yamadera (voice of Dessler) who had done the end theme for Chapter 6.

Each performer took a few minutes to chat with Miyagawa and Nakamura about how thrilling it was to be associated with Yamato and what they put into their specific song. As to be expected, the crowd was most amped-up for Yamadera, who always puts on a good show.

Art by Umegrafix for one of the clear files (posted on Twitter).

The second phase of the concert was a series of nine instrumental BGM performances, all of which were newly-arranged for this lineup of musicians. There were two groups who sometimes combined and sometimes separated. But each piece was equally fascinating, a truly different take on key pieces of the modern Yamato catalog. It was all very much in keeping with the three “Rhapsody” from 1982 that highlighted guitar, violin, and piano.

The concluding performance was Great Harmony, the end theme from Ark of the Stars. This brought the final singer onto the stage and another talk session that included a surprise guest. Writer Harutoshi Fukui walked on and said that he’d been permitted to break some news, pointing up to the video projection screen above the stage.

The first image that popped up was the updated Yamato 2205 staff list. If someone hadn’t seen that page of the program book yet, this got them caught up. But then it got REALLY interesting: before our eyes, a rapid montage of maybe a couple dozen art images flashed by. Over the space of a few seconds, we became the first audience to see preliminary designs from the new production. We quickly realized that The New Voyage isn’t just a generic name choice. We saw Garmillas carriers, a little girl (Sasha?), Tasuke Tokugawa, a refined version of the Cosmo Hound, and the clincher: redesigns of the Dark Nebula Empire spaceships, including the giant Goruba. Whether it’s a reboot or a reimagining, we are getting the Dark Nebula.

Next, a project nobody had heard about yet: a Yamato 2202 compilation film to be released in theaters sometime in 2020. Very likely as a warmup for The New Voyage. No details yet, but at the very least it offers another opportunity for us to see some of the merch we’ve been waiting for.

The grand finale, photo posted on Twitter by the Yamato Production Committee.

Finally, the concert was capped off by the entire ensemble coming together for a karaoke version of the Yamato theme (with audience participation). Multiple video cameras were on hand to record the entire thing for Blu-ray, and anyone could pre-order it on the spot. For those stuck at home, it will also be available for preorder through Amazon.co.jp and CD Japan, scheduled for release on March 27 in a Blu-ray/CD combo pack.

That brought October 14 to a close, right up against the publishing deadline for this month’s Cosmo DNA update. That made this the first travelogue to be published FROM Japan before said tour was over. There was one more day to go and more fun to share, so come on back here for the November 15 update and see how it all wrapped up!

See the photo gallery for these two days here.

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