By Tim Eldred
Several updates ago I was honored to share with you my voyage across Japan to seek out the physical presence of Space Battleship Yamato. Joining me on this quest was fellow traveler and Yamato fan Andrea Controzzi. In that tale, we flew from our respective homes in California and Italy to meet in Tokyo and embark on our adventure. It was described in detail in a travelogue titled Yamatour 2009, and it can still be read here.
We both knew what we were looking for, but what we didn’t know turned out to be far more important. For example, we didn’t know that we would meet a fellow traveler at the end of that trip and we had no idea that the three of us would be part of the first audience to see footage from the forthcoming Yamato Resurrection feature film.
Our fellow traveler was a young man named Anton Kholodov whose passion for Yamato equalled ours; it had brought him all the way from Siberia(!), and from the moment we met it was probably fated that he and I would reunite several months later, unable to resist the lure of seeing the movie itself. Yamatour 2 is the title I picked for this new travelogue, but he coined another good name for it: Apollo-Soyuz Project 2. Anton is clever like that.
He also speaks three languages fluently (Russian, English, and Japanese) studies Jazz, has lived in Japan for months at a time, somehow manages to keep up with the anime world from a small Siberian town (Tomsk), writes and draws his own comics, and is a mere 21 years old. He’s also quite resourceful, having built up his travel fund with a mix of hard work, gambling, and parental charity. Here’s how he described it in an e-mail to me a couple months before our trip:
Have you heard about “The Queen of Spades”? It’s famous opera based on Pushkin’s novel. Russian Classic. Protagonist Herman in his desire to win money in some old card game (Faro, I suppose) finds out the “secret of 3 cards.” 3, 7 and Ace. So he makes two stakes all-in and wins, but in his third stake, the Ace turns into the Queen of Spades and he loses all that he has. It’s a sad story.
Now I’ve updated Herman’s story; in order to collect money for my trip I bet on soccer games–it’s the so-called “Russian way.” I made 5 all-in stakes in a row and won. So now I have about 50% of my total. Everything will be decided this weekend. If I win I will go. Maybe it doesn’t sound good, but working 24 hours a day can’t help me because I’m just a student. Nobody will take me on a serious job. Just hope my Ace doesn’t turn into the queen of spades.
And here’s his followup from about a month later:
I had a terrible rush with my Visa. Receiving a Japan Visa in Russia is probably harder than defeating the White Comet. So I have to wait in Moscow for it. (I can say I’ve already reached Midway, if you know what I mean.)
What can I say about the premiere? I’ll be there! I’ve known Yamato for only two years, but I know that it’s the best thing. Ever. And I’m really happy to see the new movie, especially in a theatre. When I started to watch the first series I tried to enjoy it as long as I could. I watched it once a week because I knew that it would end forever after the last episode. I just can’t believe other people waited for 25 years. It’s wonderful!
I made a space warrior costume. It’s a Kodai-type long-sleeved shirt with stripes and an arrow and also the blue jacket his brother Mamoru used to wear. I’ll definitely watch the movie in costume. I’m so happy that I will celebrate the premiere in the Russian way. Usually I don’t like to drink even beer, but this time I’m going to release full Russian power (despite that I’m one-quarter German). Speaking about the Russian way, how do you think I got money for my trip? I bought a plane ticket to Japan thanks to a bet I made while in Moscow waiting for my Visa! Well, there was no choice.
As for me, a guy who was Anton’s age more than 21 years ago, the motivation for this trip was a bit different. If you give an older anime fan a chance to wax poetic, you’ll hear wistful stories of what it was like before the internet came along. Don’t get me wrong, the internet is a perfect tool to follow the hobby and it delivers exponentially more than we could get in the “good old days.” But at the same time, the internet makes it too easy. It requires less of you. When your only search engine was your own brain and email had to be hand-delivered on paper, the demands of being an anime fan were intensely challenging.
All my fondest memories of that time resulted from grappling with a challenge, and when I learned that Space Battleship Yamato Resurrection Chapter would open in Japanese movie theatres on December 12, 2009, the challenge had been issued anew. Yamato was what got me into anime in the first place. Seeking it out in all its forms has been a steady preoccupation for me since 1980. I could’ve continued to do that online and waited a few months for a DVD, but that just seemed wrong. Here, at last, was a chance to see it the way it was meant to be seen, on a big screen with big sound and surrounded by a big merchandising campaign. Going to Japan to absorb it in person was a new opportunity not just to relive the challenges of yesteryear but also to experience them in real time as Japanese fans did. I knew I’d regret it if I let the opportunity pass. And now I regret nothing.
When I first heard the announcement that a film would be made, it gave me a moment of pause. Sure, everyone wondered if Yoshinobu Nishizaki still had it in him to recapture the magic. But for me it went to another level; how would it compare to my webcomic, Star Blazers Rebirth? Assuming this movie would never be made, I took what I’d learned about its premise and built it into the story I wanted to see, a love letter to my favorite anime.
Of course, I wanted the movie to be better, but did I want it to be that much better? Honestly, I didn’t expect Nishizaki to go the way I did with the story, to plant its emotional roots so deep in the past that viewers required encyclopedic brains to get it at every level. But practicality required a certain amount of that in order to make this a true Yamato story. Starting with a blank slate would run counter to every expensive lesson learned since 1983.
George Lucas put a generation of Star Wars fans through similar anxiety and let them all down with The Phantom Menace. All I could hope was that Nishizaki wouldn’t do the same. My faith was still strong enough for me to buy four tickets in advance; three for the movie and one for the flight to Japan in December.
As the weeks ticked away, evidence rolled in to support that faith. The official website put up one trailer after another and the more I saw the more I liked. Product announcements arrived at a steady pace, just like in the old days (though now we have to infer that through the historical records). There would even be events in department stores, a trend Yamato itself had begun in 1977.
I would only be in Japan for a few days, but Anton put himself there for an entire month, arriving about two weeks ahead of me. We traded emails furiously; I was still working on the December 1 udpate, learning about imminent events and products, and he burned rubber to track them down as quickly as I could tip him off. That entire phase of the adventure is a story all by itself, a tale of attempted B&E and the search for wave-motion snacks.
Read Anton’s report of the pre-movie phase here.
I jammed all the news I could find into this website’s December 1 update and boarded the plane 10 days later. Two of my favorite sites for Yamato news (shown above) were counting down to the premiere and the numbers were getting smaller. By then so much was going on that the movie almost seemed like an afterthought. Anton was waiting for me in the Tokyo rain when I landed, having scored the first of the new CDs, Symphonic Yamato 2009. I’d hinted that it would be nice to listen to it the night before the movie opened, and he dutifully slogged from store to store until he found copies for us both.
We had just enough time that night to get a tiny taste of what would be waiting for us the next morning. We would see the film for the first time at the Shinjuku Picadilly Theatre, so we took a preliminary peek inside. Like the proverbial kids at a candy store, we stood behind a rope line at the edge of the gift shop, watching fresh new merchandise fill the shelves. This was stuff we hadn’t even heard of yet. The night of December 11 had suddenly become Christmas Eve.
After a late dinner we split off to our separate hotels and sank into the glory of that new CD, which is actually a redux of Kentaro Haneda’s 1984 Yamato Grand Symphony. When it was written, it was considered the culmination of nearly 10 years of groundbreaking anime soundtracks, reworked into a magnificent, purely orchestral medley. (Read about it in detail here.) It was revived in 2009 because Nishizaki wanted to do it the honor of including it in the Resurrection soundtrack. I hadn’t listened to it in a while, so it was an excellent way to begin this new adventure.
Saturday, December 12
A mild winter day. The rain had abated, leaving a carpet of yellow leaves on the Tokyo sidewalks. I usually grumble when the movie theatre I’m approaching has a line outside it, but this time it was a welcome sight. It wasn’t a mob scene as seen in the years before advance ticket sales, but it was definitely a gathering of diehards. Who else would pry themselves out of bed this early on a cold morning? Anton, however, was the only one to arrive in costume, which pretty much made him the center of attention.
The line at the gift shop quickly outgrew the one we’d joined outside, and the shelves we saw fill up the night before were rapidly being emptied. Within a few minutes the theatre was opened and as we climbed multiple staircases to reach it, the excitement became palpable. Passion unified us all.
I’d seen movies in Japan before (at least one per trip is my rule) and always paid special attention to the trailers. American productions are usually in the mix, but so are Japanese films that I’ll most likely never see. This was an odd mixture; Avatar was the US film (a natural title to tack onto another SF movie) but the trailers for anime films were utterly unlike Yamato. They promoted 100% kiddie fare such as Doraemon, Pokemon, and Detective Conan. Yamato‘s very first struggle was to break away from children’s anime, and here it was being chained up again. Either that’s the only kind of anime being shown in theatres this season or someone assumed that all anime pulls in the same audience. Either way, it was a bit discouraging.
As soon as the main event started, however, the rest of the world ceased to exist. Out of the darkness came that soulful female voice, the one that instantly grabbed our hearts so many years ago and wouldn’t let go. The screen filled with floating galaxies and we were off to outer space.
Two and half hours later…?
Nishizaki came through. He found exactly the right balance between old and new, gave us just enough of what long-timers wanted to see without alienating newcomers. By far the most impressive factor was the CG space battles, which were equal to anything that’s come out of American cinema. Watching them vividly demonstrated to me how much of Yamato we’ve been missing all these years. It’s quite a different experience when the pictures are bigger than you are and the sound vibrates through your body. It saddens me that those who only get to see this on DVD will miss that dimension.
You might have begun reading this article wondering if I’d spill the whole story here. I won’t do it on this page, but if you absolutely can’t wait another day to find out what happens in the film, click here for the whole scoop.
I can safely say that Yamato Resurrection is a great movie, but perhaps not great enough to supplant your favorite Yamato story. At the same time, it easily scores well above your least favorite. After a hiatus of over a quarter century, I don’t think we could have expected more than that. I was also greatly relieved that the story was very different from Star Blazers Rebirth, though a few lucky guesses on my part matched up surprisingly well. I won’t spoil anything by describing them here, but I’m looking forward to comparisons that others might make down the road.
Upon leaving the theatre and hitting the streets (stopping briefly at the hotel to drop off ten tons of loot from the theatre’s gift shop), I got on with the business of being a fan. The next four days were happily spent zipping around in Tokyo and Osaka, scouring stores for all the new stuff I’d heard about and making a few surprise discoveries as well. (Spotting something you hadn’t heard about but instantly like is the greatest joy of anime collecting, at least for me.)
The first stop was Tokyo Anime Center in Akihabara, where Anton had attended a mini-exhibition that opened on November 17 (read about it in his report, linked above). Both were somewhat of a letdown; you’d expect a facility with a name like that to be more than a single room with displays and mass-market merchandise, but at present that’s all it is. I’d envisioned something more like an interactive anime museum. Maybe someday that’s what it will become, but surprisingly there isn’t anything in Japan that fits that category yet.
The Yamato displays were still there along with a TV monitor cycling the movie trailer every three minutes (even I could take that for only so long; I couldn’t imagine working there all day) but the Cut Model was now gone, probably turning heads at a theatre lobby somewhere.
We spent the evening in pleasant company; after attending Yamato Party on the last trip, I kept in touch with Chairman Masaru Enomoto and he invited us to a Bonenkai, the traditional end-of-year gathering. It was held at one of those classic Japanese restaurants with wooden drawers for your shoes, sunken tables, and huge bilingual menus. We chatted as best we could about all things Yamato. Everyone at the table had minor complaints about Resurrection, but all agreed that it was enjoyable and a good restart for the saga.
Many had attended the preview screenings and seen the two alternate endings, one in which Earth is saved and the other where it isn’t. All of them had voted for the happy ending, but noted that some of their friends had not. Yamato fans by nature tend to be self-selected optimists, so it was interesting to me that some could still be swayed.
Incidentally, I want to mention that Mr. Enomoto gifted me with the single rarest Yamato video I could ask for, a copy of the animation from the 1985 Final Yamato Laserdisc arcade game. Not only is it great fun to watch, it finally allowed me to give this article a proper upgrade.
I spent most of my time engaged in conversation with two men directly across the table from me, Eisuke Ogura and Nobuyuki Sakurai. Both are enthusiastic fans and modelers whose creations were on display at Yamato Party. Their work has also been showcased in professional hobby magazines; Nobuyuki landed the assignment of sculpting the first set of Resurrection “capsule toy” spaceships (which had been released one week earlier), and he was already working on the second.
One of my goals for the trip was to find the new Taito “Super Mechanics” Yamato toy, so I asked if anyone had seen it yet. The answer was that it was still only available in UFO Catcher games. There just happened to be a Taito arcade right around the corner, so after our meal Eisuke charged into the fray, determined to win one for me. He made a valiant effort, but not even his Kung Fu could overcome a metal claw with all the grabbing power of wet spaghetti. Fortunately, I was able to find one a couple days later in a second-hand toy store. Those machines are not escape-proof after all.
Sunday, December 13
The morning found me on a bullet train bound for my third visit to Osaka. In terms of anime-related attractions, it’s generally thought of as Japan’s number two city after Tokyo. I like it there quite a bit; it’s more laid back and easygoing, the people are generally friendlier, and the local cuisine is outstanding, even at McDonald’s.
My specific reason for going was the second Yamato Goods Fair, this time held at the Aeon Dainichi shopping center. Anton had visited the first (at Aeon Laketown just north of Tokyo) one week earlier and sent me photos, so I knew pretty much what to expect, but the lure of an all-Yamato event with new products for sale was irresistible. It was also another opportunity to connect with the past; the original Yamato boom years gave birth to events exactly like this one. They were the beginning of anime merchandising as we now know it.
I met up with my friend Kevin Callahan, who works in this region of Japan as an assistant English teacher at a junior high school and has been an anime fan for close to twenty years. Like many of us, anime was his “gateway drug” to all things Japanese, and it was one of the things that lured him around the world to live here.
The layout was modest but well-organized. I recognized most of the displays from September’s Perfect Revival Exhibition, but some new things had been added. The first sight that greeted us was a live-size standee with all the main characters, two of which had cut-out heads to be filled in with our own.
Then, of course, there was the gigantic 15-foot Yamato model that had made only two previous appearances. It looked to be made of wood (plastic would have been too brittle and metal far too heavy) with multiple coats of paint. Unlike the Cut Model, all detail was drawn on rather than scribed. That diminished it somewhat in terms of quality, but you can’t argue with its sheer size.
See a photo gallery here.
We got our first look at the apparel that had just gone on sale at Jusco Department stores all over the country (Jusco is basically the local equivalent of Target) and since an actual Jusco store was just a short walk away, we strolled over to see more and actually buy some. Regrettably, most of the initial lineup is sized only for children, but more clothing in adult sizes had been announced for January. I’d have to fall back on the internet for those. Which I did.
The best-looking item was unquestionably the “rider jacket” with its large Yamato emblem, but an odd design choice placed it on the inside where no one can see it. Say it Loud, Say it Proud is my philosophy when it comes to things like this, so I passed.
And then there was the underwear. Far more of it than I thought possible. Most peoples’ initial reaction to this was “what the…?” But as soon as I spotted the style with the arrow insignia, I put it on my “must have” list. Not only is it practical, it’s actually somewhat authentic; longtime fans with sharp memories will recall cartoons of crew underwear in that famous 1977 issue of OUT magazine. If you don’t, here it is again:
What true fan would turn down such an opportunity to keep Yamato close to them at all times?
From Jusco we ventured back to the Goods Fair to see a live event that was coming up soon. That’s when I suddenly caught a familiar face and got the single biggest surprise of the trip. It turns out I’d met the organizer before. He runs a Japanese company named Organic Hobby, which (as reported here) had a booth at Comic Con International in San Diego last summer. They caught my eye at the time because they were showing the same advance movie footage I’d seen at Yamato Party. I asked what their connection was, and they told me they would be selling products from the movie. (Sure enough, “Organic” was one of the sponsors listed in the end credits.)
Some of those products were on display here, 12″ polystone figures of the movie’s main girls, Maho and Miyuki. Organic has also announced a 1/700 Yamato and a Cosmo Pulsar for early 2010.
Since the organizer remembered me, he took us “backstage” to meet the stars of the show: a popular cosplayer known as “Mimi” was dressed as Maho Orihara and her strong & silent companion made for a dashing Kodai. After an impromptu greeting and photo session, they took the stage to start the show.
After a few words about the movie and all the new products, Maho taught the audience how to render a proper Yamato salute and went straight into a trivia contest. Ten multiple choice questions were asked. Each winning answer produced a free t-shirt and movie poster (after the winner gave a proper salute to Captain Kodai).
I was surprised to find myself able to answer all ten questions with ease, even through the language barrier. Lucky timing played a part, too; I could name Kodai’s birthplace as Japan’s Miura Peninsula because I just learned that fact while editing our analysis of episode 13 the night before I left home. Properly identifying “The Alfee” as the performers of the end title song landed me a t-shirt and poster, then I sank back into the crowd to enjoy the rest.
My favorite question was “who is the commander of the Etos spacefleet?” The multiple choice answers were (A) President Obama, (B) Sergeant Frog, or (C) General Gorui. Of course, the answer is a no-brainer, but option A gave me pause for thought. In the space of a few days, I’d gone from a nation of obsessive 24/7 news media to another that could put a world leader in the same category as two anime characters (one being an amphibian) and imagine that someone might not be able to tell them apart.
Things wrapped up shortly thereafter, but there was one thing still left to do: attack the vending machines and gather up a complete set of Nobuyuki’s capsule toys. Mission accomplished.