Otaku Generation Zero, part 1

Inextricably linked with the rise of Space Battleship Yamato was the rise of otaku [geek] culture in Japan. Where it was once an insult, the word became a badge of honor when that generation grew up to seize the bullhorn of their own subculture. Writer Eiji Otsuka is one such member of the otaku community, having worked in publishing while Yamato and its successors were ascendent in the 70s and 80s. He’s written more than one book on the subject, and a chapter of one of his books is presented here.

The 2nd Floor Residents and Their Times

A personal history of transformational subculture

By Eiji Otsuka
Published April 2016, Seikaisha Shinsho
(Japanese text only, order it here)


The origin of “otaku” culture was on the “2nd floor”

The editorial department of Tokuma Shoten Publishing was on the 2nd floor of a now-naked building that stands quietly in Shimbashi, Tokyo. I started working there as if I lived there, with young people who weren’t sure yet what to do with themselves. The “2nd floor” was a shady yet “weird and happy place” where they gathered to make a name for themselves as leaders of the culture, later named “otaku.” I started my career in 1980 with a part-time job as an editor on the 2nd floor and rose up through the 80s to be an “otaku” of today.

Eiji Otsuka, who witnessed the beginning of the culture and the seismic shift of the media industry revives his memories of “those” times. This is a first-rate “otaku” cultural history and story of youth.

Eiji Otsuka is a manga author and critic, born 1958 in Tokyo and a graduate from the University of Tsukuba. In the 1980s he worked as an editor at Tokuma Shoten [Publishing], Shiraya Shobo [Books], and Kadokawa Shoten. See his 2016 book A Spiritual History of Otaku for details.

His works as a manga author include Coup d’etat 2 and The Folkorist in Love, both available for free at Comic Walker. He also curates his independent section of the site, Eiji Otsuka Manga. His manga titles MPD Psycho and Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service were published in English by Dark Horse Comics. As a critic, he has written many books on literature, folklore, and politics.

See Eiji Otsuka’s English-language Wikipedia entry here.

Chapter 6 of Mr. Otsuka’s book contains his views on Yamato. We begin with the conclusion of Chapter 5 for context.

Tokuma Shoten’s editor in chief Hideo Ogata had methods for absorbing financial deficits, especially the “administration fee” for each issue of a magazine, and I recall that expenses was reduced by increasing the number of products. In fact, Terebi Land [TV Land] magazine published a large number of “spinoff volumes.”

However, according to another theory, it seems that Tokuma Shoten’s cost calculations at the time were a little higher. If you think about it rationally, since most of the mooks [magazine/books] were published as “spinoff volumes,” they generated more royalties under the same copyright agreement. For Ogata, it was probably done for profitability.

Issuing a “spinoff volume” using the code of an existing magazine was a much lower hurdle than issuing a new magazine. As a measure of this, Ogata labeled the spinoff volume a “Roman Album” as a last resort, and the first one was devoted to Space Battleship Yamato.

And thus, Yamato finally appears here. The animation called Yamato created a generational sensibility for the first time, and a “culture” rose to the surface, a generation that would later be called “otaku.”

Left: an issue of Terebi Land. Right: Cover of Roman Album 1 (1977).

Chapter 6: Yes, I met Yoshinobu Nishizaki once

It all started with the Yamato Roman Album

This was a mook. [Magazine/book]

I found it just the other day at a Mandarake store in Nakano Broadway (Tokyo). Titled Roman Album 1, Space Battleship Yamato, it was less than 100 pages. Needless to say, it was published by the Terebi Land editorial department in 1977 and became the starting point for Animage magazine.

The publication date on the copy I found indicated that it was the 11th printing, August 11 1980. There was no date indicated for the first printing, but according to Tokuma Shoten’s company history it was 1977. Production is credited to “Plan Toei Co., Ltd.” but according to Hideo Ogata’s testimony (in Shoot That Flag, Okura Publishing 2004) it was a spinoff book or spinoff volume of Terebi Land. There is no such notation in this edition, so maybe it was removed in the reprinting process.

Regardless, it can be inferred from this edition that it continued to sell for three years after its publication. According to Hideo Ogata’s recollection, 10,000 copies of the first edition reached bookstores on August 27, 1977, and the second printing on September 2 consisted of 10,000 more copies. As of September of the following year, it reached 40,000 copies. The 11th edition I found was a further reprint.

Despite this, I don’t think there was a big difference in the content since the first printing, so I’m going to turn the pages of Roman Album 1 again. It’s interesting to see how it was edited. There’s a Starsha poster by Leiji Matsumoto folds into thirds at the beginning of the book, but the strangest part is how the first 24 color pages were used. Called Memories of Yamato, this section is devoted to a collection of famous scenes, cel-style illustrations on double-page spreads. Theses scenes are accompanied by captions that give it the appearance of a picture book, and the illustrations are credited to Toshio Okazaki/Anime Room.

As an illustrator, Okazaki contributed mecha to children’s books and records based on Tsuburaya-Pro and Toho’s tokusatsu [live-action special effects] works. He studied under Masashi Otomo, and you can still find many of his picture books co-authored by Hiroshi Takeuchi, a tokusatsu critic and editor whose know-how made him into one of the creators of animation and tokusatsu mooks for Tokuma Shoten. Okazaki is not as well-known as illustrators Shigeru Komatsuzaki or Yoshiyuki Takani, but he was one of the tokusatsu illustrators for children’s publications of the era.

The fact that the color pages of this frontispiece were all newly-conceived and drawn by Okazaki is proof that Roman Album 1 was strongly influenced by the know-how of children’s picture books, and convinces me that it was an extension of Terebi Land. Okazaki also did box art for model kits and was good at mecha, so most of the color pages are illustrations of spaceships, including Yamato.

But I don’t find any pictures of Yuki Mori and Susumu Kodai, which the fans would want. There are no illustrations or comments by storyboard artist Yasuhiko Yoshikazu, animation director Noboru Ishiguro, or character illustrator Toyoo Ashida. Naturally, if you want visuals centered around mecha, you’d get Studio Nue, right? At this point, some fans had an eye that could distinguish storyboards, or images drawn by the director or animators, so it’s strange to see how the editorial approach of reproducing famous scenes like a picture book resulted in such tremendous sales.

In the publishing world, the know-how of writing articles about anime and tokusatsu preceded magazines like Animage, OUT, and Animec, and we look to children’s magazines or picture books for the prehistory. When the Yamato boom finally appeared in the field of animation, you can imagine that it already attracted a wide range of “general fans” rather than the “maniac” fans who became residents of the 2nd floor. [Translator’s note: “maniac” was the 70s term that “otaku” replaced in the 80s.]

In June 1977, a special Yamato feature that preceded the Roman Album was suddenly assembled by Monthly OUT magazine that introduced character design plans – not by Leiji Matsumoto – that were attached to the series proposal with a graphic touch. This was in response to the curiosity of the “maniacs.” (See full coverage of this magazine here.)

Incidentally, OUT later distributed a small number of copies of a club newsletter, surprising readers with a feature on Locke The Superman that that could previously only be read in a doujinshi [fanzine].

From my memory, I felt that Roman Album 1 was terribly unsatisfying, but I still jumped at it and bought it. I was starving for such publications.

“Masayoshi-san” and Famicon magazine

If you believe Hideo Ogata’s testimony, Matsuo Yamadaira and Toshiaki Shimada were in charge of Roman Album 1 at the beginning. It can be seen from Ogata’s account that Yamadaira seemed to have had a difficult relationship with Yamato’s Producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki. As a result, Masayoshi Suzuki was chosen to replace him.

I’m going to digress, but when I remember the friendly face of “Masayoshi-san,” I’m also reminded of Yoshinobu Nishizaki, who I spoke to only once as I’ll explain later.

Masayoshi Suzuki, or “Masayoshi-san,” joined Tokuma Shoten in 1969. Of all the employees on the 2nd floor who had strong personalities and heroic stories, he was the most gentle and was also a visionary editor.

In 1985, Tokuma Shoten launched Family Computer Magazine, the first Famicom magazine in Japan. Masayoshi Suzuki must have been one of the earliest advocates for this at Tokuma. He was the first to pay attention to Nintendo’s Game & Watch, which was released in 1980 and boomed before Famicom arrived in 1983. When Famicom had its boom, I remember immediately starting work on a project for Terebi Land readers called Famicom Manga.

Another editorial department, which published a computer magazine titled Technopolis, would be in charge of the first Famicom magazine. It is certain that Masayoshi-san was the first editor to respond to the flow from Game & Watch to Famicom. I remember Masayoshi-san happily showing me the Game & Watch sample he obtained. When I saw his work, I thought manga based on Famicom characters was a great premise and that it would sell really well. That’s when I left the 2nd floor of Tokuma to start at Kadokawa Shoten doing mixed media works with Famicom, which became the basis of the idea for Moryo Senki Madara.

Roman Album 1 was “made for children” not only because the know-how of publishing for anime fans was still unformed, but also because I think Masayoshi Suzuki was always looking out for children. One thing was certain, he had a reliable personality. All I’m saying is that I don’t see the editing of this mook as the trigger for Animage.

Another proud memory of Masayuki-san was borrowing a desk in one corner of Yamato‘s production company Office Academy to clip out film frames. This means that Masayoshi-san was the first resident of the 2nd floor to work on “frame cutting” from an animated film (although cutting frames out of tokusatsu films would have been done before that).

There was a Yamato poster in the dorm for new students at the University of Tsukuba

Now for Space Battleship Yamato. When looking back on the history of Japanese subculture, this work is overwhelmingly huge. However, when comparing it to other epoch-making anime such as Gundam or Cagliostro Castle or Evangelion, Yamato is somewhat complicated when you talk with fans from that time.

That is because Yamato got so big as a social phenomenon, and as the sequel was being produced, “This is the end!” was thunderously repeated. It’s also because devoted fans were alienated by the copyright troubles. But to be honest, maybe we’re somehow embarrassed by the fact that we were once crazy about Yamato. I can’t really sort out my own stance toward Yamato yet. Why on Earth is that?

I still remember it. The Yamato TV series was broadcast in 1974, when I was a high school student. When I took up residence in the student dorm at the University of Tsukuba, classmates from other departments (such as study groups) went to visit each other’s rooms (my classmates did, too) and I was surprised to see what was on their bookshelves.

Hayakawa SF paperbacks were lined up carefully with girl’s manga by Moto Hagio and the other members of the Year 24 Group. [Referring to a particularly talented group of female creators who made their debut in the 70s; more information here.] For the first time, I met other “boys of the same generation.” I got involved with animation doujinshis when I was a high school student, but all the people I knew in the “arts club” were older. And all the members of the manga study group in high school were girls. I had a female friend who talked about girl’s manga, but I didn’t have any male friends who could talk about literature, science-fiction, anime, or manga.

Thinking that there was no one else weird like me, I left my parents’ home to study folklore for some reason, and met “boys like me” for the first time at the student dorm in Tsukuba’s university town. Of course, none of us knew that we would eventually come to be called “otaku.”

Another thing our room had in common was a Yamato poster with Starsha on it. It’s a little embarrassing to write that, but at the time Yamato was surely the most important culture of our generation. Thus, I was able to share with my university colleagues the excitement of discovering the Yamato special feature in OUT magazine that I mentioned earlier.

The “Yamato” TV series began in October 1974, and ended with 26 episodes in March of the following year. It turned out that Captain Harlock was supposed to appear in the latter half of the story, and when he didn’t I wondered if it was “censored.” Anime fans in high school were already sufficiently savvy to feel that.

When I was in junior high, along with some of the girls in my class, I was absorbed in watching Lupin III (1971) and Triton of the Sea (1972). It was natural for Yamato to be short-lived [six months], because we had already experienced TV programs that were short. That’s what I thought at the time. In my shallow wisdom at the time, I considered it to be “minor.”

However, I wanted to read the manga version by Leiji Matsumoto in Bouken-oh [Adventure King], which was becoming more like a TV magazine for children than Shonen Manga magazine. In addition, I bought Terebi Land every month to read the Yuki Hijiri version of Yamato. There was only one girl in the manga study group who was eccentric enough to do the same. One day in high school I got out of class to go and buy the first volume of The Poe Clan at the bookstore in front of the train station, and ran into a senior girl who was one year older than me, who would later make her debut as a manga artist. Only two copies of The Poe Clan were in stock at the bookstore, one for each of us. It was such a time.

If you search the net, you might find a site devoted to the Yamato remake by Yutaka Izubuchi and others in the “direct hit” generation, which compares scenes from Yamato 2199 with the same ones from the original. It notes that the new version is entirely better because of the quality of its visuals. If you compare them, the difference are certainly clear in the delicacy of the female characters and the density of details in the mecha, because the remake was carefully crafted by a staff of original Yamato fans.

But now, when young fans look back at the original Yamato, every single scene looks quite crude. Izubuchi and the others created the remake very carefully, and it was likely that the images that entered our brains in 1974 were even more beautiful than that.

When Makoto Shinkai came to my university to give a lecture in the spring of 2012, he showed a grassland depicted on the Famicon game screen in the 8-bit and 16-bit eras, But in my mind’s eye it was an image of a grassy plain that could have come from his latest animation. The students looked confused, but it was completely convincing for me. I think when we were looking at what was depicted on the screen in Yamato, we were seeing something more.

It was the same with Lupin III, Triton of the Sea, animation by Hayao Miyazaki’s group that would eventually become Studio Ghibli, and with Gundam when it finally surfaced. For those of us who formed the “masses” of animation and manga fans, it was common to think about “what I want to see” and watch something new to see what we were hoping for. However, when it came to Yamato, I think the viewer’s “what I want to see” imagination was over-projected onto the work – in a good way – and that’s what made it so overwhelmingly huge compared to other works.

The Starsha who was drawn by Leiji Matsumoto was totally different from the character we saw on the brown TV tube. The unusual sense of movement in Lupin III and Triton and Shiyota, which the girls flocked to, was not present in Yamato. There was no “shock” like when good and evil were brilliantly overturned in the last episode of Triton.

When you look back at it now, people like Yasuhiko Yoshikazu, Yoshiyuki Tomino, and Toyoo Ashida joined the production and drew storyboards, but there are few standout examples of their individuality. By this time fans were already scanning the end credit rolls of TV anime and the way characters would move in a shot, and the names of “unique animators” were being discovered. However, it seems that fans rarely found the names of unique animators in Yamato.

Crying over Yamato‘s special attack scene

When I revisit Yamato again, it’s easy to recite some scenes. For example, when the farewell cups of water are raised. However, I remember being repulsed by something else much later.

Sticking to just the facts, in 1997 Yamato Producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki was arrested and charged with violating the Stimulant Control law. He received his first trial judgment, and during the bail period after his appeal, it is said that he tried “smuggling” guns and bullets. During the trial for this case, he claimed that he purchased these weapons at the behest of former Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara as a countermeasure against piracy around the Senkaku Islands. (The jury dismissed this claim.)

In addition, Ishihara’s name is credited in a story draft of Yamato Resurrection. In other words, both Nishizaki and Yamato ended up becoming “political” in the end. If you think about it rationally, it’s very easy to find nationalism in Yamato. After all, I didn’t like how I could see the Palestinian conflict flickering in the background of Gundam, and when I look at Yamato now I see all the politics I can take. Isn’t that fascinating?

Needless to say, after 9/11 when a lawsuit was filed against sending Japanese SDF troops to Iraq, even the SDF scenes in Evangelion honestly became a little uncomfortable. The mentality hasn’t changed since I was a high school or university student. So why was Yamato so readily accepted?

When you look only at Yoshinobu Nishizaki’s career, he was already political enough. Yamato Resurrection, in which Ishihara shares credit with Nishizaki for “original story,” is reminiscent of allied powers in conflict with “an enemy.” Somehow it is more politically consistent than its predecessor fighting the Gamilas Empire, which is reminiscent of Nazi Germany.

But if I wanted to feel this way about Yamato, I could have found it outright. Why wasn’t I sensitive to “the smell of politics” at the time? Maybe it was my intellectual laziness. I do not deny that I had a tendency to avoid political perspectives because I was annoyed by ideological criticism, which was one of the standard forms of film and entertainment reviews.

But now, I don’t know what young people think of the old Yamato. Both “patriotism” and “Japan” were in there, but I couldn’t perceive them at all. A work that now seems to overflow with ideology didn’t seem the least bit political to me. Because of my current position in comics and animation, I feel that I should read about politics and history because I still want to write. But at that time, Yamato seemed to have no political message at all.

Regarding this point, a while after the release of the first Yamato movie, when Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind was in release, I recall how Takaaki Yoshimoto – who had seen Yamato in the theater with his daughters – expressed his discomfort with Nausicaa’s last scene in his short critique Movies Beyond The Summer.

While from Hayao Miyazaki’s point of view it might seem to be nothing more than a misinterpretation of the film, Yoshimoto criticized the “self-sacrifice” in the finale as an indirect expression of Miyazaki’s wartime experiences. However, a scene of “self-sacrifice” is also depicted in the finale of Yamato’s sequel. Certainly, you could criticize Yoshimoto for having been okay with Yamato as a parent because he saw it with his sobbing daughters (Banana Yoshimoto and her older sister, the girl’s manga artist Yoiko Haruno).

However, whether he rejected it or accepted it, Yoshimoto wasn’t mistaken in naturally critiquing the work of Hayao Miyazaki in the context of history and politics. When the Korean War was unexpectedly depicted in From Up On Poppy Hill, Hayao Miyazaki’s and Ghibli’s works gained a natural connection with history and politics. Not all of Ghibli’s works, but some are certainly connected, so you can examine them with a political perspective.

On the other hand, although Yamato seems to be filled with representations of fascism, Yoshimoto didn’t feel that way. That’s important.

After the earthquake of 3/11, every time I went abroad it was as a local animation and manga researcher. I was asked a strange question that garnered a strange response: why was an “atomic bomb” depicted as a symbol for Fukushima in manga, animation and other subcultures? I was asked the same thing in Canada, Taiwan and China. I was asked by a Swiss newspaper reporter. I told them that it was how the subculture depicts the “nuclear experience,” which reminded me once again that the Japanese are sometimes unreadable.

When you think about it, Yamato is also one of those “nuclear” stories.

If so, Yamato was the first self-evident work of the post-war subculture that did not tie into the “war experience” of its viewers. It is the product of an older generation where politics and culture were mixed, a clear difference from the subculture of our generation.

And I’ll be honest, I was crying in the corner of the theater like Yoshimoto’s daughters.

Lastly, I’ll write about Yoshinobu Nishizaki.

I met Nishizaki only once. It was after I’d become one of the 2nd floor residents, probably after Final Yamato came out in 1983. I had been roped into editing a Yamato Roman Album. I was in charge of the Yoshinobu Nishizaki interview summary. Someone other than me had conducted the interview, and I transcribed it from the tape. After the mook came out, Nishizaki visited the editorial department for some reason.

He came up to me and said, “You were the one who compiled the interview. For the first time, someone wrote exactly what I said.” I only remember being confused as he suddenly shook my hand. Even now when I think back on it, I don’t remember doing anything special. However, for a moment, I had a glimpse of the gentle side of Yoshinobu Nishizaki, who was the model for Dessler himself. I think he was a person who was easily misunderstood, and I also think he’s someone who was easily hurt.

At the same time, I also compiled a Leiji Matsumoto interview for another Roman Album that connected the world of his SF works such as Galaxy Express 999 and Captain Harlock. I remember that he enthusiastically said that 999, Harlock, and Yamato would all appear in a work that would bring them together in a big circle. I have a strong memory of that.

That’s an ordinary way of saying that, after all, Yamato would not exist without these two people. But it works for me.

Continue to the next chapter

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