Ryuko Azuma interview, May 2020

I want to depict the fundamental questions of humanity based on the world of Yamato

Interview with Ryuko Azuma, author of Space Battleship Yamato NEXT: Star Blazers Lambda

From the Star Blazers/Yamato Premium Fan Club Magazine, issue 7

The new comic Star Blazers Lambda finally begins serialization. While inheriting the Yamato series name, which includes the currently-in-production Yamato 2205, the story has been described as being developed in a completely different world line, which will excite many readers. How was this ambitious project born? We asked the author Ryuko Azuma about how Star Blazers Lambda came about and his thoughts on the work.


Ryuko Azuma was born in Iwate Prefecture. A manga artist and photographer, his first manga Mighty Adam (Shueisha Jump Comics, 4 volumes) attracted attention for its deep SF-like world view. He lives with his cat near Kichijoji in Tokyo. Follow him on Twitter here.

Mighty Adam 1 (order here)

Vol. 2 (order here)

Vol. 3 (order here)

Vol. 4 (order here)

The Lambda project first started as an anime script

Interviewer: First of all, could you tell us about how you decided to write Star Blazers Lambda?

Azuma: Actually, the first thing that came to me was an offer to write a script assuming it would become anime. This was at the request of Shoji Nishizaki. So I wrote and submitted a plan for 26 episodes and the reaction was, “It’s a bit confusing.”

Interviewer: That was just text, wasn’t it?

Azuma: Yes. Therefore, I thought it was hard for the image to emerge if it was only text, so I rewrote it and resubmitted it with three or four pictures for each episode. Then the reaction was, “This is much easier to understand.” As we continued to communicate from there, it was getting closer to a manga rather than a script. (Laughs)

Interviewer: That made it easier for them to work with you, right?

Azuma: It was a quicker way to convey the image. Actually, the characters started to move more toward manga than a script, so my feeling became stronger that I wanted to do it myself as a manga. Finally, I got an opinion from Mr. Nishizaki, “This seems like it will be more interesting with your visuals,” and that’s what led to Lambda.

Interviewer: This work is a new story born from the original Space Battleship Yamato, and it’s attracting attention from fans. Was there some pressure in taking on the big theme of Yamato?

Azuma: There is also a generational factor, and I’m sorry to say that before this started I didn’t know much about Space Battleship Yamato. That may be why I was accepted. (Laughs)

Interviewer: What was your original experience with anime?

Azuma: In generational terms, I’m post-Gundam, but I wasn’t actually the target audience for Gundam. To be honest, I kept my distance from anime in junior high and high school. In terms of anime that strongly influenced me, Evangelion might be the first, which became a social phenomenon.

Interviewer: You did check Space Battleship Yamato.

Azuma: Of course, it’s a masterpiece so I had some basic knowledge of it even if I wasn’t watching it. Yamato goes to Iscandar and brings back the Cosmo Cleaner. Everyone knows the characters such as Captain Okita and Dessler.

Interviewer: So in a way you were able to take up the challenge because you had no strong feelings.

Azuma: That was it. In addition, Lambda is different from a so-called remake right from the start. The goal of the project was to depict a new world while respecting Yamato. So I think I could take up the challenge because I didn’t know Yamato.

The story advanced by changing the main character to an elementary student

Interviewer: First off, I was surprised that Yu Yamato, the main character of this story, is an elementary student. What was the intention with this concept?

Azuma: At the writing stage, Yu was set up to be a high school student. At the start, I dared to make him a tasteless, odorless character, and I was conscious of bringing out the individuality of the people around Yu by making him unique. Although he was the main character, I wondered if he was becoming like “a presence only to advance the story.” When it comes to that, a character doesn’t work well. Then the idea came to make Yu an elementary student.

Interviewer: Was that your idea?

Azuma: I suggested it in conversation with the support people (Voyager staff).

Interviewer: Then it made its way into the work.

Azuma: Yes. But my biggest concern was the relationship between Yu and his best friend Laine. Would it be possible to depict it well if their age difference increased? I was worried about that, but when I actually drew it, it fit pretty well.

Interviewer: The members of Topness are selected through online games. So when they actually meet, it’s interesting that they have different positions and ages.

Azuma: The idea of the story having “gameness” came out during the planning. I like games myself, so this concept works well.

Interviewer: The battle scene also has “gameness.”

Azuma: I gave it the appearance of a fleet war while being conscious of Yamato, but the battle between Topness and Seireness is a supernatural battle. When it comes to the battle scene, part of it was inspired by Overwatch. In Overwatch, a hero with special abilities fights in a team, and they can become a very strong character depending on the map and the configuration of the opposing team.

In addition to mystery elements, you can also enjoy elements of school love comedy

Interviewer: Lambda has very familiar battle scenes. On the other hand, the story weaves together boys and girls from all over the world, so I also feel a school-like atmosphere.

Azuma: If you feel that way, then my intentions succeeded. (Laughs) What is life like on a frontline base at Jupiter? After thinking about that, I arrived at the idea of a “training camp.”

Interviewer: Something like a club camp?

Azuma: Back when I played baseball, I had the experience of being in a training camp. I thought it might have that atmosphere. Even though there’s a real match coming up tomorrow or the next day, the atmosphere is somehow refreshing. The aim was to come to a different world and get an uplifting feeling.

Interviewer: If you think of it as a training camp with club activities, it’s understandable that comedic elements are included in the serious developments.

Azuma: Topness is a group ranging from elementary to high school students, so I imagined that there might be some gag events. At first I wanted to depict the story as a mystery presented in small pieces so readers could enjoy solving it, and I was also conscious of developments that would make me think, “I want to read what happens next.” However, if you rely only on that there would be a side to it where the traction might drag it down it as a story, so I decided to add love comedy elements as another axis.

Interviewer: By the way, was the mystery element you originally aimed for the existence of Seireness?

Azuma: Yes. The true identity of Seireness is the basis for the mystery element in Lambda. I was conscious of the structure that the readers should approach the Seireness mystery from Yu’s perspective

Also pay attention to the hidden “ship history” in Tamamori’s battleship designs

Interviewer: When creating Lambda, were there some concepts you wanted to incorporate from the original?

Azuma: As I said earlier, I’m not familiar with Yamato myself, so I relied on the help of everyone around me for details and to incorporate the elements that are thought to be necessary. However, I wanted to incorporate the Wave-Motion Gun right from the start. After all, it’s inseparable from Yamato. In terms of the story, some parts became solidified because of the Wave-Motion Gun, even the mechanical parts.

Interviewer: In terms of linking it with the original, the big attraction in Lambda is the battleship group led by Yu in the Mark 6 (Yamato ship). What kind of interaction did you have with Junichiro Tamamori, who is in charge of the mecha design?

Azuma: I drew a rough sketch at the beginning, and Mr. Tamamori expanded the image from there. They have the feeling of being packed with detail, don’t they? Because of his participation, I feel like the battleship design is part of the appeal. Some “ship history” is included in the Lambda battleships. Starting from small boats like canoes, they seem to develop into outriggers or galleons, and of course Yamato is said to be the “battleship of battleship.” The battleships are operated by Topness members, and part of the fun is guessing what kind of ship design is in their motif.

Yuya Takashima provided scientific research for a new energy different from “Wave-Motion”

Interviewer: As for original concepts in Lambda, one point of interest is “space-time crystals,” which appears in a form similar to Wave-Motion Energy from the original Yamato.

Azuma: The concept of “space-time crystals” was developed together with [2202 novelist] Yuya Takashima, who provided scientific research. When I was thinking about how to set up a “super energy source” like Wave-Motion Energy, I did some scientific research and I learned about the theory of “time crystals.”

Interviewer: What is it?

Azuma: For example, in salt crystals the atomic structure generates repeating patterns. And the question is whether this repetition could also occur on a time axis in addition to a spatial axis. When Mr. Takashima and I thought about it, we come up with the “space-time crystal,” a susbstance that changes its crystalline structure over time. I decided to make it a super energy source by connecting it with the consciousness of the Topness.

Interviewer: Even though you collaborated with Mr. Takashima, there are various difficulties when visualizing hard science concepts in a manga.

Azuma: I like the field of science. So when I create a story, I’m always thinking, “Is this concept physically possible?” For example, if you want to introduced a special attack method, I try to find literature and materials to support it.

Interviewer: So you have to have basic knowledge to be able to study science.

Azuma: Not really. If you want to reflect it visually, it will be difficult to express if you overdo it. With manga, I place more importance on what you feel from a picture rather than its reality.

A lot of talent is gathered in Lambda, what is its central theme?

Interviewer: As you said, Lambda is a work that was born from collaboration with such people as Mr. Tamamori and Mr. Takashima. When you created it, how did it feel different from your previous work, Mighty Adam?

Azuma: Lambda has a very different environment from the usual manga production, including how it got started.

Interviewer: It began as a script for anime.

Azuma: It may be closer to the anime production process than to manga. With manga I think it through only in my own head, but the anime production method allows you to use other heads as well. Therefore, it’s good for coming up with ideas that I couldn’t come up with myself. Other names were Mr. Nishizaki and [2202/2205 scriptwriter] Hideki Oka, and because I can advance with advice from many people, it’s very helpful with brush-up on any confusing parts.

Interviewer: The long-awaited series start has finally arrived. For those who will enter the world of Lambda, how do you want people to enjoy your story?

Azuma: It may seem cheeky, but I’m confident that the work will be enjoyed by SF lovers and even traditional Yamato fans.

Interviewer: Anticipation will increase. What message do you want to convey through your work?

Azuma: It’s not limited to this work, but I always aim to shake a reader’s intellectual curiosity. To quote Gaugin, “Where are we from? Who are we? Where are we going?” With Lambda, I hope again to think about the fundamental doubts held by humans. Futhermore, I’d also like to express the “heart of affection” as a theme in common with the original Yamato. To all Yamato fans, please pay attention to that point as you read the story.

Interviewer: Thank you very much. We’re fired up to read it!!

Messages for launch!

It isn’t just the canon that keeps Gundam alive, it’s the “other Gundams” that depict various world views that young people sometimes adopt as “my thing.” Yamato should also absolutely plant such Yamato seeds, and with Star Blazers Lambda the wishes of all interested people have been met. What is the essence and meaning of being Yamato?…those are fascinating things you can think about privately with your own logic. First, there is only progress! It’s a tough world, but we’re preparing for a critically-acclaimed sortie. Let’s partake in a Yamato race in the near future, which includes Aquarius Algorithm.

– Harutoshi Fukui (2202, 2205 series writer)

It seemed that Mr. Ryuko Azuma was going to draw a Yamato comic. When I heard that, I bought all four volumes of Mighty Adam right away. It’s an elaborate, calculated SF with a quiet, immersive narrative. It is a paradox that tells us through the personality of machines that humans are not disposable. It’s wonderful. I admire it. After reading it, I thought this person could redefine Yamato.

There was a sense of anticipation. Who would decide? There are strict rules in the world of Yamato fans. If you stray from that, the voices would pour down like rain: “This is not Yamato.” This silent rule that Space Battleship Yamato must continue to exist like Space Battleship Yamato is a necessary sense of aesthetics. However, that keeps Yamato from developing and expanding. That’s what I’ve been thinking for decades. Since I’m a fan that was raised by Yamato, I can’t bring myself to violate “Yamato‘s manners.” But if no one takes that leap someday, a new Yamato won’t fly.

Star Blazers Lambda might accomplish that. Everything is completely different. As you read it, thoughts like “how is this about Yamato?” will make you crazy, but at the end you just might find more “feelings” than the original Yamato gave you. With the hope that such a future will come, I want to watch the wonderful new world of Yamato depicted by Mr. Azuma.

– Hideki Oka (2202, 2205 scriptwriter)

With the depth of Mr. Azuma’s unique world view, I feel a special charm in the concept of each character living their own life. When doing mecha design for battleships, no other work was harder for me than this one, and I was able to take on a new perspective that wasn’t tied to any theory from the past. The characters have begun to move and thrilling developments have started that will open the door to a new generation with this “Yamato, but not Yamato” story. Please feel its tremendous potential.

– Junichiro Yamamori (Yamato series mecha design)

The story of Space Battleship Yamato was created by my father (Yoshinobu Nishizaki) 46 years ago, and even after a long time it has not become a relic of the past. Anime, books, a live-action movie, games; it has been delivered to many people in various forms. Those of us who inherit it want to take on more diverse and exciting challenges. Star Blazers Lambda is one of the projects that produces such a “next Yamato.”

I personally like Mr. Azuma’s delicate and stylish art, which I feel is different from the line that has delineated Yamato so far. Where will this newborn story lead? To what extent can you empathize with it? I still don’t know. My own evaluation is still pending, so I would like to entrust it to our readers. For Yamato fans and those who do not know Yamato at all, I hope you will take it up as one of our challenges.

– Shoji Nishizaki (Space Battleship Yamato new series Executive Producer and General Supervisor)

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5 thoughts on “Ryuko Azuma interview, May 2020

  1. I’ve read this twice, and I still don’t understand the premise of the manga — is it “future interplanetary society, teenage students/cadets engage in semi-virtual naval wargame, aliens/AIs (“Seireness”) sneak into the game”? Possibly with “some of the gamepieces are inspired by an in-universe fiction”, that being some mutation of “Yamato”.

    This interview is more about the “why” than “what”. (It predates the manga, so even the Japanese audience might be puzzled — or did they benefit from separate and complementary promotions?) I’m getting alarm-vibes of “brand extension with tenuous thematic and character connection”, as with “Yamato 2520”, “Gatchaman Next”, “Evangelion Angelic Days”, “Gundam Build Fighters”, and “Team Knight Rider”. Also the “Japanese school culture thinly extrapolated to the future” pattern, found in a lot of anime, rather than the “uniformed military” pattern that has greater international commonality.

    I do like that “Battleship of Battleships” design, insofar as it has weapons on both ventral and dorsal sides. It doesn’t have any obvious engine apertures, so I wonder what that says about its propulsion?

    The author seems to taken the not-as-cool-as-it-sounds scientific term “time crystals” and gone wild, as did “Star Trek: Discovery”.

    • The premise is quite simple: an online game called Star Sailor is played on Earth. The best players qualify to be considered as pilots who will fight the Seireness. In the first manga chapter, the latest qualifiers arrive at the Jupiter station, and Yu Yamato is selected just before the Seireness arrive to attack Earth. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it’s Yamato news so we’ll continue observing it in the coming months.

  2. I read this interview after reading the nine chapters currently available, and I’m not convinced by the manga.

    There is so much links with Darling in the Franxx (with the selection of pilots, slim suits and Linne who is clearly a Zero 2-like character), or with Freezing, (with the battle against big human-like monsters that can burst out of nowhere) that I’m a bit confuse because I feel like I’ve already seen that elsewhere so many times …
    Even if we add the Yamato lore in the equation, I still don’t see the purpose of such a manga or series. Yes, it is a way to add some length and to have more content, but it is not useful if it’s just reusing plenty of codes that are employed all over in ancient works, above all when they’re clichés in bad/average anime or manga. Yamato was always linked with innovation both in animation and scenario, I would find it sad to just use its name to create average stories.
    I’m curious though to see where it will go, even if it sounds really strange and déjà vu to me. Furthermore, I’m hooked about Yu’s mother. Oh, and I think we’ve all spotted who’s hiding behind the skull-like mask
    Ok and I laughed so hard as I was reading that one of the ships was named “Richelieu”. I love and I am still desperate about how Japanese artists are using french in their works …

    • You’re not mistaken about any of your observations. The factor that motivated this manga to be commissioned is still vague. All we know is what has been said, that there was a desire to try something new. No promise that it would be successful, or be accepted by everyone. I’m withholding final judgment until we have the whole story. Right now, it’s Yamato in name only.

      • Yes of course ! I’m awaiting to see what it is going to be, and since I managed to fishinish Darling in the Franxx, I’ll manage to read it to the end too. Still, I don’t find the postulate really engaging, and I hope some subversion of what we already see elsewhere, at least

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