Otaku Generation Zero, part 2

In our August 2020 update, we presented a chapter from a biographical book titled The 2nd Floor Residents and Their Times. Written by Eiji Otsuka, it refers to the 2nd floor of the Tokuma Shoten publishing company, from which sprang Animage magazine, the famed Roman Album series, and many other publications that represented the birth of anime-otaku culture.

Chapter 6 of Otsuka’s book contains his views of Yamato as a pop culture phenomenon and can be read here. We now continue with Chapter 7, which lays out the otaku generation’s social context and Yamato’s impact on the fusion of entertainment and politics.

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 7: Space Battleship Yamato and we who “were not historical”

The age of Yamato and the United Red Army

I’m going to digress a little from the story of the 2nd floor residents. I want to think a little more about Space Battleship Yamato. In this wandering essay, the purpose is not just to follow the insular story that unfolded on Tokuma Shoten’s 2nd floor at a certain time in the 80s, but the history of the subculture behind it and the postwar history of Japan (or “modern history” to exaggerate it) that our small and happy place was inevitably rooted in. At that time, I think Yamato had more meaning than just an opportunity to launch Animage magazine.

Members of the radical protest group United Red Army

In the 1970s, the children who were born in the 50s and early 60s who would later become “otaku” or “the new breed” or the “self-styled” were teenagers, between childhood and maturity. The next generation above them in age was the “protest generation,” consisting of 2nd floor resident [Animage editor] Toshio Suzuki and animator Yasuhiko Yoshikazu. Within the manga world, they were [manga artist] Moto Hagio and other members of the “Year 24 Group” and COM magazine. And the people of new academia, such as [religious historian] Shinichi Nakazawa and [feminist sociologist] Chizuko Ueno who brilliantly appeared in the 80s. They belonged to this “upper generation.” [Musician] Ryuichi Sakamoto was one of them, too. Above them was the 60-year Security Treaty generation.

I have consistently felt a sense of incongruity with the older generation. On one hand, they were extremely political as symbolized by the student movement, but on the other hand, they also fully embraced “lightness” and “subculture.” That’s what I was trying to figure out. It may be wrong to put it this way, but although the older generation was lifted up as some sort of symbol, our generation used it to justify an “escape from politics.” Conversely, I feel that we were in a position to be criticized for our “lack of politics.”

After all, it was the “otaku” culture that modern thinking lauded as the “post-modern culture” and “Japanese culture” which in a way was “killing with praise.” When some sort of “otaku” youth crime occurred, it was chalked up as antisocial behavior within a subculture. Sometimes I wonder if that was the beginning of a double standard.

Unlucky Young Men manga volumes

Going off-topic a little here, there are several viewpoints about when the postwar turning point took place. Recently, [historian] Eiji Oguma and others have called attention to 1969. I also depicted 1969 in my manga Unlucky Young Men.

On the other hand, [philosopher] Takaaki Yoshimoto and [writer] Yuzo Tsubouchi look at 1972 and the problem of the United Red Army. 1972 was also written about somewhere for the Asama Sanso Incident when the Red Army took hostages in a mountain lodge, and police hit it with a wrecking ball. I was a junior high student at the time. I’d been injured at school and watched the TV broadcast from a hospital waiting room. In my lap was a clipping from a girl’s manga by Moto Hagio that had been secretly passed around by a girl in class. It was “culture” for a girl to secretly pass girl’s manga around to boys.

The Asama Sanso Incident, 1972

The gap between the girl’s manga in my lap and the young people in the United Red Army on TV was one generation, and I think that’s my consistent position. Of course, with Moto Hagio and the “Year 24 Group,” girl’s manga artists born in 1949, were of the same generation as the Red Army. Chizuko Ueno was of the same generation as Hagio, and catches that scene from 1972 as a symbol of transformation:

In 1970, the school struggle was defeated and the times began to darken. An extremist female student was arrested on the streets of Tokyo. She was at the forefront of the fashion trends, wearing a maxi coat that reached her ankles, a super miniskirt above the knee, and dragonfly glasses. A beautiful, fashionable, radical girl student became a magnet for the newspapers. In fact, all the newspapers reported on the arrest the next morning with pictures. What attracted public attention was the fearlessness of “An An.”

Of course, at this time, the very idea of stylish women who volunteered for the revolution, when the old left-wing movement was marked by its austere ethos, was unheard of. Theories were floated that their outfits were camouflage for going out for scouting. And while that might have been true, it didn’t mean that they didn’t also enjoy fashion.

(Chizuko Ueno, Search Game for “I,” the desire for private society (Chikuma Art Library, 1992)

The Yodogo Incident, 1970

Ueno, of the older generation, honestly says that the combination of the new left and the female student “An An” may be the manifestation of a single essence rather than a disguise. The younger generation is certainly convinced of that. The criminal hijackers in the Yodogo Incident had the strange slogan of “a newspaper in our hand, a [manga] magazine in our heart,” and left the message that “We are Tomorrow’s Joe” as they defected to Korea. I’m immediately reminded of a school festival poster by [writer] Osamu Hashimoto, an unknown University of Tokyo student at the time, which imitated a Ken Takakura yakuza movie.

The political claims of the older generation are difficult to put into words, but they were always side by side with subculture, giving the impression of two sides of a coin. The face was “politics” in 1969 and became “subculture” in 1972. Maybe Yamato was on the back.

From the first Yamato Roman Album: a report on the August 1977 movie premiere

Yamato might have created the Otaku

The first Yamato TV series was broadcast from October 6, 1974 to March 30, 1975. Considering the timeframe in which the plan was launched, it would have been on the back of the coin. I think Yamato is vividly remembered because it happened that way.

I think there are two historical meanings behind that. I touched on one of them last time, when I mentioned that our generation of “otaku” didn’t have a name yet. When animation and manga created a common culture with a clear outline, it became the catalyst for the launch of Animage magazine. Roman Album Vol. 1 was released when the Yamato movie came out in 1977. In one article, the scene of the night before the premiere was described as follows:

At midnight on August 5 in Ginza, Tokyo, a sweet melody flows from the circle of all-nighters. (…) Their hearts are close together. Their blood flows as they share their feelings about Starsha. A humming rendition of The Scarlet Scarf moistens the moon over Ginza.

(Report on the August 6 screening of Space Battleship Yamato, Roman Album Vol. 1, Tokuma Shoten, 1977)

A photo of boys and girls in their teens appeared with this caption: The Yamato movie was distributed to Shibuya and Ikebukuro where “young people” lined up all night in front of Tokyu theaters.

I didn’t stay up all night, but I remember being excited to hear about it from my classmates who did, and now I’m somewhat embarrassed by it. However, the article was signed with an “O” which may possibly be [Tokuma Shoten’s editor in chief] Hideo Ogata. I’m continually embarrassed by vivid memories of how excited I was back then. The article also said:

Two people who came here from Adachi spoke passionately: “I want Yamato‘s love for myself. It gives me the courage to stand up and face challenges…”

I’m also from Adachi, and I don’t know how accurately this article reflects their words. From the late 60s to the early 70s, student protests spread to some middle schools and high schools. The metropolitan high school I went to was no exception, and the school trip had been canceled because of some dispute. After all, political passion and the passion for Yamato were essentially the same. It was like the older generation turning over the coin in front of them and saying, “I have to cut my hair and get a job,” which was getting close for me, too.

Fans lined up at a movie theater in Ueno, Tokyo

However, I think I felt somewhere in my heart that the incongruity in my passion for Yamato was that it’s not a story that dismisses the word “love”, but actually has a sense of it being a real thing. Therefore, the “conversion” clearly showed by Yamato was to break the relationship between “subculture” and “politics” on opposite sides of the coin. “Break” may not be accurate. Would it be better to say that “politics” was removed from one side of the coin? At the very least, I think Yamato was symbolic of the point when “subculture” and “politics” became separated for the younger generation.

In truth, it’s clear that we fans should have been able to recognize it when words like “politics, nationalism, militarism” and another nostalgic phrase from those days, “maintenance reaction” [i.e. bias confirmation] passed through articles and comments about Yamato. It wasn’t a time when the right wing was in the political majority as they are now, but the feeling in the world was what we currently call Liberal, and there were few people who criticized Yamato‘s nationalism.

Why is that?

This is very important for Japan’s subculture and postwar history, and it is not unrelated to my nostalgia for “Tokuma’s 2nd floor.” I think it’s necessary to write about the stories of Hideo Ogata and Toshio Suzuki because we’re finally approaching the story of our generation.

As I said previously, I didn’t see the clear political representations in Yamato at all. I wrote that off-handedly, but I should be a little more specific.

In other words, though I caught the scent of “militarism” or “fascism” in Yamato at the time, how did it not affect anyone? Last time I said I was somewhat relieved when Takaaki Yoshimoto acknowledged the young people crying at Yamato‘s suicide attack in the theater (in Farewell to Yamato). When [movie critic] Kousei Ono criticized the scene where Yamato‘s sailors exchanged farewell cups of water, I didn’t say anything. My feeling was that we wanted to affirm Yamato as the first public cultural touchstone of our generation. That’s what I think.

Is the story’s foundation “That War” or “Journey to the West”?

However, Yamato is still an outright “allegory of war,” isn’t it? This is a very personal thing to think about, but I was puzzled when I was invited as a guest speaker at a Korean film festival showing the original Yamato movie.

South Korea and Japan had territorial disputes over Takeshima while there were also problems with the Senkaku Islands. In Yamato Resurrection, Yoshinobu Nishizaki gave a big credit caption to [conservative politician] Shintaro Ishihara. Meanwhile, China and South Korea were repeatedly clashing over the capture of Chinese fishing boats operating in places considered to be Korea’s exclusive economic zone, which resulted in some deaths.

Nishizaki and Ishihara, 1990s

When I received the invitation from Korea, it crossed my mind for a moment that the enemy of an enemy could be an ally. The organizer and curator was a highly non-political Japanimation pioneer who said she wanted to screen Yamato as a space adventure anime. Naturally, there are “historical issues” between Korea and Japan, which are the basis for bad feelings in Japan’s younger generation toward Korean-style idols. The feelings of Korea’s youth toward Japan are naturally negative regarding the issue of Takeshima. Whether it’s left-wing or right-wing, Japan’s genuine attitude toward East Asia is to be politically prepared to deal with China and Korea.

That’s why I was rather puzzled by the Korean organizer’s idea to show Yamato in a non-political context. Actually, the same puzzle arose about a dozen years ago. I felt it when seeing the main character of a Hong Kong kung fu comic with “Emperor Jimmu” written on the back of his jacket. I had the same impression recently when I saw a nostalgic illustration by a Hong Kong cartoonist of Japanese forces from the occupation years drawn in “moe” [fetish] style. (Translator’s note: both of these examples demonstrate an unexpected reverence of Japanese history within Hong Kong.)

While there are still unresolved historical issues, why does the Japanimation subculture still stand outside of these political problems, accepted by East Asia? Is it really a problem on their side? Rather, I feel like the expansion of “Japanimation” to East Asia is an phenomenon that erases politics.

For the Korean film festival, I revisited Space Battleship Yamato and Farewell to Yamato for the first time in over twenty years. I also watched the live-action movie version starring Takuya Kimura. What I concluded is that it’s a direct “rewrite” of “that war.” This impression becomes more obvious as I follow the series.

For example, in Space Battleship Yamato, Yamato is not with the allied powers or East Asia, and fights against Gamilas, which suggests Nazi Germany. The motif of fighting against “enemies” that represent Hitler can also be found in Osamu Tezuka’s Big X. Even if this wasn’t especially novel when adapted into Yamato, it is said that the “enemy” of the revived Battleship Yamato is in the style of Hitler. This “secret replacement” is the first thing that interests me. Earth is polluted with radioactivity by Gamilas planet bombs, and Yamato revives for launch. It goes without saying that it was America who dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, so neither Dessler nor Hitler have anything to do with real history.

Setting up an enemy that imitates the Nazis is simply borrowing an image, which you can naturally dismiss as an expression of “conventionalism.” But it’s also possible to say that this revisionist story of “that war” is further biased by the linguistic environment created by the postwar relationship with the United States. Still, when Yamato attacks Planet Gamilas, Dessler says, “This is the decisive mainland battle,” which feels like a “rewrite” of the actual “decisive mainland battle” in the war where Japan was defeated. You might love it, but the revived Battleship Yamato conducts a nuclear attack on the imitation Nazis, and the story of Space Battleship Yamato could be summed up as, “going after the empire and winning the decisive mainland battle.” The hidden subject becomes clear.

In the second film, Farewell to Yamato, the bias of “secret replacement” obviously recedes. This time, a mysterious empire pushes forward to colonize space. An SOS message arrives from someone, and the ship launches in defiance of upper-level opposition. It’s as if the Kanto army ran away to mainland China to free Asia from Western colonists. It seems like “repetition.”

However, in The New Voyage, Gamilas earns our admiration by being driven from their homeland, becoming an ethnic group like the Jews. Yoshinobu Nishizaki became very political at a certain point, and in his last film Yamato Resurrection, a credit is given to Shintaro Ishihara for “original draft.” It becomes a straight-up war allegory in which other planets are the “enemy” and “immigrants” are stopped by forces reminiscent of “allied powers.”

Even so, I wouldn’t say that Yamato is the direct expression of the private ideology of a unique producer named Yoshinobu Nishizaki.

In Space Battleship Yamato Perfect Memory 1 & 2, a pair of Roman Albums published in 1983 prior to Final Yamato, there are a lot of materials that confirm the proposal plans for Yamato. [See all of this material in English here] This was also the only Roman Album I was involved with, where I helped with the “summary” of Nishizaki’s interview. [Read it here.

According to the article and the published proposal, the original plan for Yamato was written by Keisuke Fujikawa at Nishizaki’s request around the spring of 1973. Two versions were written, Space Battleship Cosmo by Fujikawa and Asteroid Ship by Aritsune Toyota. The common idea in both proposals was that Earth was irradiated by an alien attack, but the idea to fly Battleship Yamato into space was not there yet. The Fujikawa plan was to emigrate, but the Toyota plan introduced the idea of going on a journey for “technology to eliminate radioactivity.” Toyota said this was an adaptation of Journey to the West:

In fact, this is Journey to the West. In other words, it is extrapolated from a familiar story in which the local world of Central Asia has fallen into disorder and a passage is made into Western regions.

(Aritsune Toyota interview, Perfect Manual 2, 1983)

Who “quoted” Nazi Germany in Yamato?

The full text for the Space Battleship Yamato proposal book is presented in color in Perfect Manual 2, credited to Yoshinobu Nishizaki and Eiichi Yamamoto. [See it here] It included rough character designs by Eiichi Yamamoto and illustrations in the style of SF novel covers by Kazuaki Saito. Depending on your point of view, the costume design looks like something from [anime studio] Tatsunoko. Yamato is named, but not Gamilas, which is reminiscent of Nazi Germany. Instead, there are the “Rajendora Aliens” who change their appearance depending on the environment.

The motif of reconstructing the sunken Yamato is found in a spring 1974 memo by Leiji Matsumoto. In addition, a Matsumoto memo dated September 27, 1974 names the following characters: President Dessler, Vice-President Hyss, Propoganda Minister Shalabaster, Chief Bodygard Kesu, and SS Forward Army Corps Leader Natar. The Gamilas organizational chart is modeled on Nazi Germany. However, as Matsumoto recalls:

We wanted to make Yamato a space drama with the ship being the main focus. Although our Yamato has its roots in the original battleship, we took extra care to distinguish the two. We didn’t want this to be a war movie, or some tale of military history. We avoided focusing on war banners, military marches, and the chrysanthemum crest on the bow of the battleship. We eliminated altogether the military ranking system, consolidating the various posts. I really didn’t care for keeping a salute, but we ended up creating the special “Yamato salute” by having the hand placed over the heart. The Gamilas salute resembles the German “Heil Hitler,” but in reality it is used around the world.

During production of the second episode, a major uproar erupted over the inclusion of the IJN warship march. I felt this would surely be misconstrued as a political statement. I dared to have the music replaced and we rushed the tape out. Therefore, the warship march wasn’t included in the broadcast.

(Leiji Matsumoto interview, Perfect Manual 2, 1983; read the entire interview here.)

In this way, the “political tone” of Yamato can be seen in the ideas of those involved in the project fitting together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Leiji Matsumoto also recalls nearly having a nervous breakdown over becoming a target due to “militarism.”

That’s how Yamato was designed to prevent it from becoming “political,” but when Kosei Ono caught the scent and irritated me with his criticism, it was something that could be seen as “political allegory.” Again, “politics” and “subculture” are two sides of the same coin. In Godzilla and the class struggle stories by Sanpei Shirato, the sociopolitical messages and the subculture’s acceptance were united. In Yamato, no one was overtly political. Still, although Leiji Matsumoto tried to avoid it, it converges into a story about a “redo” of “that war” when I see it now.

Just as Kabuki presented satire and the irony of politics during the Edo period, pop culture and its subculture extensions are allegories of politics and society today. At the end of the 60s, subcultures such as manga and anime presented “allegories” for society and politics. Both the senders and the receivers were aware of it. But Yamato might symbolize the end of that relationship.

I think of Gundam as an allegory about Palestine. It goes without saying that in Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, the giant god soldiers are an allegory for weapons of mass destruction. Ghibli’s works consistently preserve the relationship between both sides of the coin and give me the impression that they are trying to be allegorical. Gundam and Nausicaa both embraced politics, but whether Yamato is affirmed or denied as an allegory for society, history, or politics, I think it ended the era when this was obediently accepted.

Therefore, I don’t take Yamato only as a “love” story or a “military” story, but I still feel like something remains undigested. Certainly, criticism that only sees a work in ideological terms often makes that work look terribly insufficient. Furthermore, a movie that is only propaganda for an ideology is completely empty.

The Aum Shinrikyo Incident, 1995

But since Yamato, our side had so disconnected subculture and politics that when the young people of our generation approached society, as with the Aum Shinrikyo incident, they so lacked a footing in their view of society and politics that they applied a historical viewpoint tinged with SF anime to deal with real society in episodes that were both funny and not funny, as though trying to develop their own Cosmo Cleaner for it. I think those failures and bottlenecks were inevitable.

After 3/11 (the Tohoku Earthquake), a foreign manga and animation researcher told me that, beginning with Yamato, Japanese people had been repeatedly portraying the “Nuclear Parable” over and over. But, when 3/11 happened, they couldn’t understand at all the chaos in dealing with it.

Although Japanese subculture is certainly filled with allegorical stories, we may have lost the foothold to accept them as allegories. Japan is living through a time when allegories have become dysfunctional. When I talk about this with critics, of course all I get back is a blank stare.

But just as allegories have become dysfunctional, Japanimation has arrived in East Asia, and starts me thinking about another meaning of reality.


The Korean curator who planned the non-political screening of Yamato didn’t show up at the venue. The Korean speaker wondered why the Japanese people didn’t associate Okinawa as the site for the “battle for the mainland” (unilaterally imagined as “the peace of Earth”) Why didn’t Japanese people associate Okinawa with Gamilas and Iscandar? After all, where was the battleship Yamato sailing to in the first place?

BONUS: excerpt from Chapter 22

At “the end” of Yamato

In terms of “the end,” 1982 was the year when the Final Yamato project started. The generation of the first anime boom must have been praying that it would actually end this time. I was roped into working on the last Yamato Roman Album, and I somehow had the feeling of “giving water to a dying person.” Since the statute of limitations has passed, I can mention that Yoshinobu Nishizaki had borrowed some money from Tokuma Shoten that would be offset by royalties on Yamato-related publications. When I heard about such adult circumstances, it made my feelings about Yamato more complicated.

Yamato hadn’t been liquidated like Gundam, and it still wasn’t over. [Translator’s note: this is in reference to the original Mobile Suit Gundam movie trilogy, which ended in 1982 with no sequel in sight.]

Maybe there were times when I was troubled by the problems and circumstances of adults, but in the August 1982 issue of Animage, there was a Final Yamato feature (above left) with Yoshinori Kanada’s image boards and the title, “I want to draw this Yamato.” The cover of the December issue (above right) also showed “Kanada’s Yamato.” Kanada was referred to in Animage as “third generation,” a respected contemporary of the “2nd floor residents” who came together after the Yamato boom. The [editorial] intent was to forcibly link him to Yamato with “deep affection” to bring greater value to the finale, and this can be felt even now. In the end, it may have led to feelings among Yutaka Izubuchi and others in Yamato‘s “direct hit generation” to lend a hand to the Yamato remake.

The August 1982 article featuring Kanada’s image boards concluded with this editor’s note:

In addition to Mr. Kanada, Kazuhiko Udagawa and Shinya Takahashi have also joined the Final Chapter as supervisors. The general director has not yet been decided.

(Animage, August 1982) [See the complete article here]

Three supervisors, but no general director yet. That left me with a foreboding feeling that the “Kanada Yamato” would not be realized. This article begged for Yamato to have a beautiful ending, almost like a prayer.

At left: the “Goodbye Youth” cover, April 1983. At right: first page of the questionnaire article.

Yamato feature articles continued after that. Yoshinori Kanada’s art was again featured on the cover of the April 1983 issue with the blurb “Goodbye Youth.” It seemed to represent the feelings of the “2nd floor residents” and fans who wanted Yamato to come to an end.

On the other hand, as if to represent the complex emotions of the fans, a particularly bold questionnaire was given to fifteen staff members and animators who worked on previous Yamato productions. To begin with, eight out of the fifteen said that they intended to see Final Yamato. When asked “will you see it?” Toyoo Ashida and Keisuke Fujikawa were two of the five who answered “yes,” and the remaining three offered noncommittal answers like, “If I have time, I’ll see it.”

The comments of the others were painful. The questions were ① Will you see it, and ② For what reason?

Kazuo Tomisawa (key animator, The New Voyage)

① No.

② Because I have more of a fondness toward Harmagedon. From what I’ve heard, this Yamato isn’t quite polished, so I can’t really get too excited over it.

Yoshiyuki Tomino (storyboard, Series 1)

I don’t have any comment at all about Yamato.

Yasuhiko Yoshikazu (storyboards, Series 1, Farewell, Series 2, New Voyage)

① I probably won’t see it.

② For me, Yamato is over. I make that distinction with Farewell to Yamato. Even when I was involved on the staff, I felt that Yamato should end.

(Animage, April 1983) [See the complete article here.]

Many of the old staff members criticized the ongoing production system of Yamato as “a thing of the past” and “dark history.” When Harmagedon was mentioned, it was almost like saying “don’t go see Yamato.” The article ended with notices of related events and ticket giveaways.

However, the generation of “2nd floor residents” weren’t as cold toward Yamato as the animators, and I remember being surprised that the Yamato Roman Album I worked on sold surprisingly well. Nevertheless, the basic stance of Animage in 1983 was to declare “the end” for Yamato, Gundam, and Galaxy Express 999.

In the “Animation White Paper” feature in the February 1983 issue, there were such blurbs as, “Ideon could not surpass Gundam,” “Yamato 10-year summary; this really is the last time,” and “Queen Millennia and Endless Road SSX surprisingly not extended; Leiji Matsumoto anime finally has a shadow…” and fan comments such as, “there’s too much media hype.” Both topics were tough for creators who were trying to keep the boom going.

Special thanks to Neil Nadelman for translation support.

Track the entire history of Animage‘s Final Yamato articles via the Time Machine index here.

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