As the creator and first editor-in-chief of the game-changing magazine Animage, Hideo Ogata played an instrumental role in the foundation of anime culture. In this chapter from his memoir Shoot That Flag! he recounts the origin of the magazine and Yamato’s pivotal role in it.
The Sun Rises Again ~ The Lonely Birth of Animage
The first two issues are shown here. All photos below are from issue 1, published May 1978
Media Mix was the trend of the times
With the huge success of the Space Battleship Yamato Roman Album, I became convinced that the animation category was definitely a big market, and I discovered that it was possible to have a magazine that uses animation as its theme.
From my experience editing Terebi Land, I had a fair idea of what animation and tokusatsu (live-action special effects films) were, but what I learned from the Yamato film was extraordinary. It seemed that a change in culture or customs could suddenly release an energy that went beyond logic. After all, how could so many young people stay up all night to watch just one movie, even in the summer? When I witnessed the scene of strangers quickly forming a community around a single theme, I was amazed. It was an eye-opening experience.
At this point, I would like to introduce Mr. Tatsumi Yamashita, one of the senior members of the company. He was the number two person in the company, who held the position of Vice President. When making final decisions on important management strategies and new business, he acted as the president’s chief strategist.
When I was the editor-in-chief of a weekly magazine, I was able to directly learn from him. He was also a strong supporter of the editorial department for children and youth, which later had few sympathizers, and he gave us guidance.
While he was elite and sharp, he also had an extravagant side. In particular, he was a master of belching and often fired off several rounds at meetings. His volume was neither too high nor too low, and he gave off no odor. I’ve heard that it is rude to burp in foreign countries, but when I was a new employee, I was baptized by this “Yamashita gun” and was quite surprised.
By the way, I write his name here rather than his title because our office was small and we’d refer to even our most senior members by name. I didn’t want to be called “chief editor” either, so I asked everyone to call me by my first name. Even Hayao Miyazaki sometimes disliked being called “Mr. Miyazaki,” So I used to irreverantly call him “Miya-san.”
”Animage Banzai!” Good luck wishes from prominent anime industry members
The year from 1977 to 1978 was a very difficult one. There were many incidents, such as the hijack of a Japan Airlines plane in Dhaka by the Japanese Red Army (9/28/77), the signing of the Sino-Japanese Peace Treaty (8/8/77), and the signing of the U.S.-Japan Peace Treaty (8/9/77). The signing of the Japan-China peace treaty (8/12/78) was a major news event.
In the publishing industry, Proof of Humanity and The Village of Eight Tombs were discussed as symbols of the so-called media mix. As another example, the hit Yamato movie became a bestseller in the publishing industry. And I didn’t want the success of Yamato to end with just one book.
I thought that publishing-plus-visual [film] was clearly the new vector of the publishing business, and that animation was the most effective material for this. The “expansion and reproduction” I wrote about earlier would become possible. (And I immediately appealed this directly to Mr. Yamashita.) As my dream grew, so did my impatience. I couldn’t sit still. There was no time like the present to summon the wind and create the clouds.
When I was a child, my grandmother used to say to me, “Tebirako, be quiet for a minute!” Tebirako refers to a small moth in the Tohoku dialect, the kind that flies around light bulbs all night without rest. I was too small to be a leader in my group, but I was a wily strategist and I was always on the move.
There was an incident during summer vacation that I still recall with horror.
“Hey, who wants to walk on the bottom of the ocean with a weight?
At the provocation of Tsukasa, a sixth-grader, I said, “Yes, I’ll do it!” I tied a large stone around my bathing suit and went into the sea. When I reached the bottom at a depth of about 2 meters, I was unable to remove the stone and almost drowned. The knot in the rope had become soaked and was so tight I couldn’t untie it.
I was a reckless boy who, egged on by his friends, jumped from a second floor window. I walked away with a bruised lower back, but it could have been a much more serious accident than that, and I escaped with my life.
In the course of the work that was to follow, I often remembered these Tebirako incidents and laughed.
First reveal of the mighty Andromeda. This page made art-oriented boys want to become mecha designers.
One of them, Junichi Tamamori, grew up to design the Yamato remakes. See the full article here.
Trash cleanup order the day after the defeat of the Chunichi Dragons
The colors of autumn were floating in the sky.
The window of the editorial office gave me only a small view, but I could still see the clouds. It was hard to get a sense of the four seasons around Shinbashi. As I was absentmindedly thinking about this, I suddenly heard Toshio Suzuki’s voice shouting at me.
“Hey, it’s cleaning day. Clean up around your desk! Clean your desk!”
Suzuki was a man who liked to take care of the garbage in the room. He was also meticulous and skillfully reconfigured cardboard boxes to create a large trash can. This trash-clearing order seemed to happen sporadically, especially the day after the defeat of the dragons. I, a tebirako, was chewing on a piece of bread, oblivious to the hubbub around me. I was listening to Teresa Teng’s fascinating song Tsugunai on the radio behind my desk.
“Ogata-san, how long are you going to listen to old enka [folk music]?”
“Oh, come on, Toshio-kun. I’ve almost learned this song. You’re killing me.”
I was annoyed at having my prodigal mood ruined. Suzuki was actually a member of the same enka camp, and Tsuneo Fujishima’s Hozenji Yokocho was one of his favorites. On company excursions, he would never learn his lesson. He would sing this song endlessly without worrying about the disapproval of others.
By the way, this annual autumn comfort trip was also a lot of fun. We performed amateur theatricals at the banquet. Suzuki showed his ability in such situations. He wrote the script for the play using our members as the cast, and planned the direction by himself. I’d always get the lead role of “official authority” and Kojo usually played the joker. Suzuki often played the role of narrator, since he didn’t have to act in order to qualify.
”TV Animation World” (left side) was the first dedicated monthly index of all the anime on TV at the time
Strike while the iron is hot
The year 1978 arrived. This would be a critical year for me.
Fortunately, there was a “special demand for Yamato” in the previous year, and the editorial department for children and boys made 810 million yen in sales, a growth of 102.5% over the previous year (1976). However, Terebi Land magazine was still treated as the king of deficits. It was still referred to by the derogatory term “pistol magazine.” I was in a panic. I was desperate. I had to transform myself into the “king of surplus.”
As I mentioned above, I had been working on a plan for a new magazine since the previous fall. It was to be an extension of Yamato, but I did not have an elaborate concept for the entire magazine. To begin with, the concept of The Complete Works of Yamato [which became the Roman Album] started out from the rumor that Yamato would be made into a movie. What had convinced me was a conversation between my sons. My son was in junior high school at the time, and we were talking among ourselves.
“What happened to Dessler?”
“There’s something going on between Daisuke Shima and Yuki Mori.”
However, if we didn’t strike while the iron was hot, it would get cold.
First, we had to decide on a general framework and think it through after we started running. One day at the end of March, I invited Toshio Suzuki to a nearby hangout called Lucky. This was a relief cafe with delicious thick toast, and Yamashita often went there.
“Toshio, I’m definitely going to publish a monthly animation magazine. Please work with me.”
“What? What are you talking about?
“I’ve thought of a title. Animage. It’s a contraction of Animation Image. It’s a good name.”
Illustrated feature on Space Pirate Captain Harlock
Suzuki tilted his head and looked worried.
“But you’ve got your hands full with Terebi Land, and now you want to work on a new magazine…”
His anxiety was justified. That’s why I was thinking of outsourcing this new magazine. But we had so many differences of opinion that we decided against it. I decided to edit it internally, even if I had to give it to someone from the editorial department of Terebi Land. Suzuki also raised a question about the sales aspect.
“If it becomes a regular monthly magazine, the sales department might get noisy…”
As I have often written in the past, the sales section is a very important part of our business. As Suzuki said, the sales section would be rather negative. It’s like not seeing the forest for the trees. They point out the details and overlook the treasures in the forest beyond.
“Then I’ll put a mosaic over the real intention of the new magazine. For now, we’ll call it a Terebi Land Separate Volume. I don’t think sales would get wise to it, and the agency won’t complain.”
It was really complicated to get a new project to go through. In later years, I proposed things like the Anime Grand Prix and a Nausicaa Film adaptation that offended the sensibilities of people at the company. I’ll talk about those later.
In this way, Suzuki eventually agreed to the proposal, and we began to work on the format. I had already seen Suzuki’s thoughts. We’ve known each other for a long time, and we’re on the same page, and he likes new things. He is also a technocrat who knows a lot about layout and printing. If he didn’t say yes, Animage would end up being a mere figment of my imagination. I always thought of him as “my fellow rebel,” and the two of us wanted to upend the world of strangers to anime.
Interview with hyper-popular voice actor Akira Kamiya (still working today)
The title of a magazine is difficult
By the way, the title of a magazine is one of the most difficult problems to solve. Every product, not just magazines, has a unique name and logo. The name isn’t the embodiment of the product, but it must express the product in the best possible way.
It is better to limit the number of characters to five to make it clearer.
The more crisp it sounds, the more powerful it is.
Even if it’s not related to the content, an eccentric name is much more interesting.
There are many theories, and if some have already been tried, you can’t use them. It’s a continuous struggle to decide on a title and a catchphrase. The rationale for the name Animage was the same as mentioned above, and I decided on that at once. There were several other ideas, but I didn’t have to think about them.
Later, [Director] Isao Takahata said to me, “It’s a really good title.” He is one of the most intellectual people in the industry, and I was very happy to have his endorsement.
Ryu (published in 1979) was a long-awaited manga magazine, named after the word “dragon.” The dragon is an auspicious animal, especially in China, where it means “emperor” and is an absolute being. However, this magazine was not a rising dragon. The title was later changed to Shonen Captain.
I thought the concept of animation was simply ‘romanticism,’ so I came up with “Roman Album.” There were many others. I was disappointed that Hanako [mentioned in previous chapter] did not materialize. I also thought of an adult magazine for women called Purple, and I proposed a crazy magazine called Marriages and Divorces, but as expected, it was rejected due to the antipathy of the female staff.
One of the 11 colors was a “secret” black revealed by indirect light (bottom)
The true intention behind the Roman Album
Let’s get back to the main topic.
The format of Animage was decided as A4 size, 122 pages, 580 yen, 70,000 copies, estimated return rate of 21%, to be released on May 26, 1978.
It was in the middle of February when I got the company’s approval, so there were less than 80 days left until the release date. We started the work in a rush.
The cover, the most important part, was Suzuki’s idea; Yamato drawn by Nozomu Tanaka. This cover had an overwhelming effect in stores. Usually, color printing is done in four colors: red, blue, yellow, and black. However, for this cover we used a total of 11 colors, including silver.
The layout was done by Ishifumi Mizuno, who was well known in the publishing design field at that time. The reason we chose Yamato for the cover was because, in addition to being the big hit movie of the previous year, the production of Part 2 had been decided for this year as well.
At the planning meeting in front of the officers in the company, I explained the following four points as the editorial policy of Animage:
(1) As the first dedicated animation magazine, it should cover all relevant information. The target audience should be young people.
(2) It should be a new kind of visual town magazine with a smart atmosphere.
(3) Emphasize the idol nature of the voice actors.
(4) Readers are welcome to participate in the magazine. Expand the contribution page.
Interview with the “Aniking,” singer Ichiro Mizuki
I had already dispensed with the invisibility cloak of calling it a Terebi Land separate volume. I explained with full confidence that it would be a success as a premiere magazine. There was no controversy at the meeting, and the project passed easily through the planning committee. It was anticlimactic. But the road was clear. I was concerned that it seemed light at only 122 pages, but it was our first monthly magazine in a long time since Terebi Land and the editorial department was very enthusiastic.
Naturally, with only six staff members, we were very busy with interviews. We had never met most of the people we were going to talk to. I had to study hard beforehand, and I was always nervous.
I often accompanied Suzuki on interviews. Many of them were related to the top feature of Yamato, which, like the Roman Album, were a continuous struggle. Yoshinobu Nishizaki must have been in high spirits after the success of his film. The interview was more difficult than the previous one.
Suzuki is on the small side and his stride is small, but his walking speed is fast.
“You should walk a little slower.”
“No, no, no, I’m going to be late for my appointment,” he said, swinging his rucksack over his shoulder. He was an impatient man.
Among the people I met for the first issue, those who left the biggest impression on me were Yoshikazu Yasuhiko (artist), Masaki Tsuji (scriptwriter), Ichiro Mizuki (singer), and Akira Kamiya (voice actor).
I met Yasuhiko for the first time at a coffee shop in Kudanshita, Tokyo, where Yamato production headquarters was located at the time. I was impressed by his light brown leather bag. I don’t remember the details of the exchange, but I do remember that he answered my questions thoughtfully. Later, when he took a leave of absence due to illness, I visited him and selfishly asked him to create the Arion manga for Ryu, which he readily agreed to do.
Masaki Tsuji is a successful scriptwriter. I asked him to write the serialization of A Little Word, and he continued to help me with planning and other things. His workplace was a coffee shop near Toei’s headquarters in Ginza, Tokyo.
Ichiro Mizuki, was the “Aniking” of anime songs and Akira Kamiya, one of the pioneers of popular voice actors, appeared at every event organized by Animage.
”Fan Plaza” (left side) opened up a channel for private fan clubs, a 1978 version of social media
Amazing! Perfect sales rate of 95.6
On May 26, 1978, Animage‘s first issue (with a July cover date) went on sale simultaneously throughout Japan.
The planning started in October of the previous year, and the full-scale production launch was in March 1978. It was a rush job, so there was some inexperience. I was worried. Magazine sales surveys are usually divided into three rounds to collect data. The final return rate [of unsold copies] would be determined a month after publication.
How did Animage do? 58% on day 4, 82.3% on day 11, and 95.6% on day 25. It was a near perfect game.
The return rate was less than 5%. The sales team had expected 21.6% before the launch, so it must have been an unexpected miscalculation on their part. Honestly, I was just happy. I felt like I was standing at the top of the clouds rising in the summer sky after the rainy season had ended.
What on earth was the cause of my victory?
First of all, the avant-garde nature of the animation genre, previously considered to be minor, was well received.
”Air Mail,” a look at international projects including a page on Marvel Comics
Second, there were no strong rival magazines.
Later on, they were launched one after another: The Anime (Modern Movie Company), My Anime (Akita Shoten), and Animedia (Gakushu Kenkyusha). But at that time, Animage was the sole publisher.[Translator’s note: other anime magazines did exist prior to Animage, specifically OUT and Rendezvous, but these were considered small press whereas Animage was backed by a mainstream publisher. Another small press magazine would follow titled Animec.]
Thirdly, the cover had an impact. Above all, it was the power of the cover that generated the greatest sales appeal. The idea to use Yamato in an unprecedented 11 colors came from Toshio Suzuki. It was a first issue that exuded his genius. With the addition of Ishifumi Mizuno on the layout, it was an unbeatable cover.
As a side note, Mr. Mizuno was a genius in the magazine design world at the time, and was a stylish song lover. We were also uncompromising karaoke rivals. When I was singing comfortably, he would say, “I’ll sing backup,” and steal my mic. Unfortunately, he has joined the heavenly choir. Masaaki Motomura, who was Mr. Mizuno’s disciple, is now the owner of Soft Garage Inc. and is carrying on his dream. This is a software group that is attracting attention in the industry from publishing to video production. He is as proud of his voice as his master, although he doesn’t try to take over the mic.
Contests with prizes got readers fully engaged
Bookstore patrol on the day of release
In response to the good performance of the first issue, Vol. 2 was increased by 20,000 to 90,000 copies, and sell-through on the 29th day was 92.8%. Finally, from the November issue, circulation reached double digits at 110,000 copies. the regular publication date was set for the 10th of every month.
Whenever that day came, I always went out on bookstore patrol. I was so anxious to see how it would sell. There was nothing like witnessing a reader who had been browsing the magazine take it to the cashier and make sure to buy it. It was a blissful time.
“Thank you for buying Animage,” I said. Suddenly, the person I was talking to recoiled in surprise.
“Actually, I’m from the Animage editorial department, and I’m doing a sales survey…”
I greeted him with sincere gratitude, and we had a short conversation about the content of the magazine.
Did Animage‘s good performance change the way people in the company saw us? I was curious, but then again, I didn’t care who in the company complimented me. I was much happier to be complimented by readers.
I like to call it “edge logic.” You don’t have to be in the middle, you can be at the end. Be in the minority! You may end up in the middle as a result, but it’s much more thrilling to be on the edge.
It’s the burnt rice at the bottom of the rice pot. This is also the edge, so to speak. However, it has a unique aroma and is very good. It can be eaten even without side dishes. Don’t throw away the ends of the bread loaf. They are also delicious. In sumo, the two extremes are either retiring after a series of losses or immediately falling out. Terebi Land and Animage were products from that end of the spectrum.
But there was no time to sit on our laurels and enjoy peace and quiet. Strangely enough, even though the first three issues all did well, the response and evaluation within the company was silent. The editorial department became complacent and tried to refrain from self-praise.
At any rate, it was only natural that the book should sell well. If it didn’t sell, we would have been roundly criticized and booed.
Anyway, what was this tranquility that now pervaded the forest? I wondered…
”Akira Hio’s Mechanical World,” a feature by one of Yamato’s many manga artists. Read an extensive 2014 interview with him here.