Yamato and Hideo Ogata, part 1

Hideo Ogata is not well known outside Japan, and it’s impossible to even find a photo of him on the internet (believe me, I looked!) but he’s one of those people who played an instrumental role in building the foundation of anime culture. In 2004, three years before he lost a fight with cancer, he did the world a huge favor by publishing a book of his memoirs. Yamato figured heavily in two chapters of that book, so we’re presenting the first one here.

Shoot that flag!
Animage Blood Wind Record

By Hideo Ogata
Okura Publishing (November 1, 2004)

This book is a chronicle of the life of the man who started Animage magazine and produced Hayao Miyazaki’s anime boom. Hideo Ogata was born in 1933. After he graduated from Meiji University, he joined Asahi Entertainment Publishing (a division of Tokuma Shoten) in 1961.

After working in the editorial department of Asahi and as editor-in-chief of the monthly Terebi Land [TV Land] magazine (1973-1997), he launched Animage (in 1978) and served as its first editor-in-chief. He was also instrumental in the establishment of Studio Ghibli and produced many Ghibli films, including Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. In 1994, he left Tokuma Shoten as Managing Director.

(See his Wikipedia entry here)

The first chapter of the book covered the creation and launch of Terebi Land in 1973. Here, Ogata describes his push for the next big break, which unwittingly put him on a collision course with Space Battleship Yamato.


The Second Act

Existing publications were growing old

My life in weekly magazines lasted for 10 years, from 1961 to 1971.

During that time, I had many encounters with various people and had a fulfilling experience. But it consisted of a lot of routine work, and I was getting tired of it. In the editorial meetings, which are the most important part of the work at a weekly magazine, I would offer plans that didn’t match the editor-in-chief’s wishes, and it gradually became uncomfortable.

This is a trivial example, but even a term like “plate” was used for a picture in a novel, while I insisted on using the word “illust.” [Illustration] I tried to get Science-Fiction included, which was still considered a minor genre at the time. I wanted to get out of this job, so I deliberately expressed my outlandish opinions at editorial meetings. After ten years, I had reached a point of exhaustion.

At that time, I had a kind of irreverent sense of crisis about the company’s publications. This was because the target audience was always middle-aged men or older. I had the feeling that if we didn’t produce a magazine for young people, it would be impossible to renew our readership. So I came up with three ideas for a new magazine. However, they were not mature ideas that had been carefully scrutinized. It was a fairly ambiguous plan.

The first was an idol magazine, the second was a comic magazine, and the third was a women’s magazine.

It is said that there are three key elements in creating a magazine: T, C, and S. T is for target. In other words, who do you want to read it? C is for content/themes. S is for sales strategy. Of the three, I didn’t hesitate to choose young people for T. As for C, as I said I was focused on idols, comics, and women’s magazines. [Translator’s note: Ogata does specifically use the word “comic” in his text rather than “manga,” which was an indicator of his out-of-the-box thinking.]

At that time, a rapid publishing revolution was in full swing. In the world of comics there was Shonen Magazine. In women’s magazines, An An and Non Non appeared, giving rise to the term Anon clan.

Heibon Punch and GORO were other cosmopolitan magazines for young people with a new sense of style, and they were competing for supremacy. These new types of magazines contributed greatly to the overall sales of the publishing industry. Thanks to them, publishing sales as a whole were higher than the previous year.

As for S (sales strategy), I thought about how to persuade the distributors. In the distribution of books, there is usually an intermediary company between the publisher and the bookstore. Therefore, book sales were achieved mainly through negotiations with distributors rather than with retail bookstores. However, that side of things was locked into “precedent and experience.” It took a lot of effort to sell them on something new.

I remember a symbolic event about a distribution company. In 1982, I decided to launch the Animage paperback series, focusing on the paperback format which was booming at the time. I went to a major distributor to explain it. It was only midday, so I was stunned when the person in charge started to doze off. I felt both annoyed and ashamed when I realized that they would not listen to me unless I was a famous brand.

I’d held various events for readers, such as the Terebi Land Festival and Anime Grand Prix, and I wanted to appeal directly to the readership about the quality of my magazine. For this reason, I felt very frustrated by the intermediary.

Today, it is said that we are in the era of direct marketing, but if these intermediaries don’t change their “precedent and experience” constitution, things will get difficult in the future.


Terebi Land covers, 1973

Top comics and allergies

So, I’d come up with the three magazine ideas based on T, C, and S. But I couldn’t persuade the higher-ups.

On the other hand, TV had entered the color age and was finally showing its power. There are some intellectuals who believe that the confrontation between analog print and digital radio will end in the death of the former. I thought analog print would be immortal, and that magazines based on the new “T, C, S” would be necessary, so I appealed for these three magazine ideas as leading products that would meet the needs of the times. However, this did not become the shared opinion of the entire company.

One day, the chief editor called me and rejected my argument for comic magazines. “You call it comics, but other publishers don’t do that. They’re just manga shops.”

In the case of women’s magazines, I appealed to the chief editor for the title Hanako (which was a feminine pronoun, as opposed to Shogakukan’s GORO, which is a masculine pronoun.) He said, “There is an elephant named Hanako in the Ueno Zoo, and if we use the same name as the elephant, it will lower the dignity of the magazine.” So it was rejected. But I could not give up my dream of creating a women’s magazine.

In 1989, I set my sights on the world-famous brand Vogue and tried to create a Japanese version of it. After some research, I found that the head of Paris Vogue was a Japanese woman named Hiroko Matsumoto (a top model in 1960’s, now deceased) and we thought we could negotiate a license through her.

I immediately consulted the president of Tokuma, who said he knew her well from the past. I accompanied the president to Paris to start business negotiations. But, in addition to the complicated and strict contractual terms unique to foreign companies, the collapse of the bubble economy meant that there was no way to generate advertising revenue. In the end, this project came to nothing.

Furthermore, Tokuma Shoten had a strong image as a publisher of men’s magazines. The decision of the advertising agency that “publishing a women’s magazine would not fit in” proved fatal.


Terebi Land covers, 1974

A sense of victory: Space Battleship Yamato

Time flew by and the year 1976 arrived.

During this time, my plan for the three new magazines I mentioned above was still on hold. In 1973, we started a new kind of magazine called Terebi Land, but it had many editorial restrictions. In addition, the spinoff volumes that were based on this magazine did not cultivate new readers. It did not expand beyond simple reproduction, like a field that repetitively produces the same crops.

What were the items that would expand it beyond reproduction? What would the canonical magazine be? My thoughts only grew more and more depressed every day.

I also began to frequent the bars near the office. I was more interested in food than drinking, so I didn’t drink much, but there was a guitar player named Shige at the bar. He was a great guitar player, and I sang a lot of folk songs with him. Now I think of karaoke as a kind of martial art. It’s a kind of self-discipline to learn how to make the song your own. It is also a fierce battle to make the surrounding drunks listen to you; a place to test one’s courage, endure ridicule, and ignore the naysayers.

But when I returned to reality, I was still faced with a full-scale struggle. I wanted to make a magazine that sells! That’s all I really wanted.

In the same year, the company published a book titled Crossing the River of Wrath by Jukou Nishimura that was made into a movie. There were other hits that made it a year of great morale boosting. I looked at them with a feeling like envy, and while I listed to news about former Prime Minister Tanaka being arrested in the Lockheed bribery scandal, I kept thinking about the new magazine.


Terebi Land covers, 1975

The saying goes that “God works in mysterious ways.” I think it means that some coincidences are fortunate, but good omens can turn around quickly. It was at the end of this year that the information that came to the Terebi Land editorial office that Space Battleship Yamato was going to be made into a movie.

It was said that Yamato was becoming a big movement. The anime first appeared as a TV series in October 1974. This story goes back a bit, but I had encountered Yamato that June during the annoying rainy season. There was a visitor in the editorial office. He was a well-dressed man who gave me a stylish impression. He said, “We are going to air an animation called Space Battleship Yamato on Yomiuri TV. I would like you to do a feature on it in your magazine.”

The business card he presented to me read, “Office Academy Producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki.” I took the thick proposal book from him and said, “Let me think about it.” At that point, I could not have predicted that this encounter with Yamato would turn out to be fateful.

[Read about Terebi Land’s Series 1 coverage here.]

The information that came to the editorial office was as follows:

Yamato was going to be made into a movie. There were signs that this was not going to be an ordinary movie. The fan base was not elementary school students, but middle, high school and university students. There was a nationwide movement among Yamato‘s supporters to promote the movie adaptation of the TV series.

This was news enough to ignite my passion. I decided immediately, “Okay, let’s do a Yamato movie Complete Works book!”

I wasn’t 100% sure about it. But I wanted to take action first and then we could think about it after we started running. Otherwise, nothing would move forward.

On the other hand, there had always been a certain indifference to this kind of magazine at the company. Most of us had no idea about animation. Even the sales staff, who were supposed to be the most sensitive to market trends, did not show much interest. Therefore, I was afraid that this book might be crushed if I didn’t do a good job with it. I couldn’t shake off such anxiety.


Terebi Land covers, 1976

A huge hit with 400,000 copies in print

I decided to go for the guerilla strategy.

To tell you the truth, I was planning to use this project as a breakthrough to start a new magazine, but it was unlikely that a new regular magazine would be adopted within the company. So, how could I get this project approved?

To do so, I borrowed the title of Terebi Land to call it a Terebi Land Extra Edition. This way, it wouldn’t be the launch of a new magazine, so the sales people and the distributor wouldn’t complain as they had in the past. Moreover, this Yamato Complete Works would have another title. It would be called a “Roman Album.”

This name was chosen in the hope that it would break away from the adolescent audience of Terebi Land and lead to a new magazine for older people in the near future. I was also convinced that this was the material that could become a canonical magazine.

I appointed the project to Yamahira, the assistant editor, and Shimada, a member of the staff. I explained to them that I wanted to use this project as the springboard for a new magazine in the near future, if possible.

“I want to make Yamato Complete Works. What do you think?”

“Agreed, let’s do it,” was their resounding reply.

We passed the internal review successfully. After that, the rest of the work, from graphic design to interviewing, writing and proofreading, was done in a hurry.

But suddenly, something happened.

Yamahira asked to quit this job. The interviewee was the famous Yoshinobu Nishizaki, who made him cry a lot. Even when he arrived at the appointed time for the interview, he was kept waiting for an hour or two. Nishizaki would check every detail of the work, and Yamahira couldn’t stand it.

However, I knew that I would miss out on a big fish if publication was interrupted because of this. I agreed to Yamahira’s request and decided to look for a pinch hitter.


Terebi Land covers, 1977

Now, who would be good? The name Masayoshi Suzuki came to mind. He joined the company in 1969, moved to Terebi Land from a weekly magazine, and is a brilliant man with a warm personality. There was no need to worry that he would get into trouble with the client.

At that time, Masayoshi Suzuki was on vacation at his hometown, Shizuoka. Things were about to get dicey. I called him and said, “Masayoshi, get back to the company as soon as possible.”

“What is it? I’m on vacation right now.”

“Your vacation is cancelled. It’s because of Yamato.”

I could almost see the tears on his face. I felt sorry for him, but personal feelings are not allowed in an emergency situation.

“We have a disease, and you’re the cure. I want you to get back here as soon as possible.”

Although he started this rush job with an assistant, Masa Suzuki, the interview was actually a series of difficult marches. What surprised me the most was that, even though I had gotten the OK to proceed when corrections were made, we had to wait for approval again. If we didn’t start printing and binding the book, the release date will be delayed and we’d have to spend extra money. It was really aggravating.

I was the copyright holder, so I couldn’t complain. As the old adage goes, “There is no joy without pain.” But the sales results after the launch of Yamato were astonishing. The hard work had paid off.

Although it was not released in time for the movie premiere on August 6, 1977, the first 100,000 copies of the Yamato Roman Album appeared in bookstores on August 27 and were almost sold out by the 10th day. On September 6, the second printing of the book sold 100,000 copies, and it went on to a further eight printings. By September 1978, the total number of copies sold was 400,000, making it a hit product.

When I did interviews for the book, I was able to feel the enthusiasm for animation. There was a long line of people waiting in line at the theaters before the movie opened. Theaters took emergency measures to move up the first screening to 6AM in order to accommodate the all-nighters.

I went around to theaters in Tokyo from midnight on August 5 to early morning on August 6, and I witnessed the extraordinary atmosphere and enthusiasm. I wrote the following in the Roman Album:

The morning of August 6th arrived. The heat of dawn enveloped the lightly clouded metropolis of Tokyo. The scorching sun broke through the clouds and dyed the eastern sky. At 6:00 a.m., Space Battleship Yamato made its grand appearance in six Tokyo theaters.

Coming in the next chapter: the birth of Animage!


Bonus

Terebi Land’s coverage of the first Yamato series went above and beyond that of every other magazine at the time. Original art was commissioned that has never been reprinted, and an independent manga adaptation by Yuki Hijiri ran over six consecutive issues (read it in its entirety here).

Below are article pages from the November 1974, December 1974, and January 1975 issues.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *