Yoshikazu Yasuhiko interviews, 2020

“Yas” is an artist for all seasons with decades of experience in both anime and manga that turned him into an industry giant. As a key contributor to the two biggest anime franchises of all time, Space Battleship Yamato and Mobile Suit Gundam, he possesses a unique vantage point and a fascinating career. He was extensively interviewed for two major books that were published in 2020, both of which are excerpted here.

Yoshikazu Yasuhiko: My Back Pages

Ohta Books, November 2020

Order it from Amazon.co.jp here

Culled from over thirty hours of interviews conducted by Makoto Ishii for Continue magazine, this thick book covers Yasuhiko’s entire career. It is mainly text, but also contains scattered illustrations and a 24-page color prologue to Yas’ next manga series. The chapter on Yamato is presented below.

Encountering Yoshinobu Nishizaki and participating in Space Battleship Yamato

While working on Zerotester at Soeisha, Yoshikazu Yasuhiko received a request from a completely different route to participate in an anime film. The name of the work was Space Battleship Yamato.

Yasuhiko worked as a storyboard artist on Yamato, which started broadcasting on Yomiuri TV in October 1974. The person who approached Yasuhiko was Yoshinobu Nishizaki, a famous producer. Nishizaki and Yasuhiko both used to work for Mushi Pro, the studio founded by Osamu Tezuka. Although Yasuhiko was not directly involved with Nishizaki, he had heard rumors about his wild personality.

At the time, I had never met Nishizaki in person, but I had heard rumors about him. When I was working on Wansa-kun at Mushi Pro, I saw him from the second floor of the office coming into the Mushi Pro parking lot in a very large car. I think it was a Lincoln? Anyway, it was a big car that didn’t fit the place because we had to come in through a narrow alley.

Everyone was saying, “How did they get in?” It wouldn’t fit, so it was parked diagonally. (Laughs) It made a strong impact.

I’d heard bad rumors, like, “He’s hijacking Mushi Pro.” He was supposedly a bad guy. Anyway, that was my impression of him.

Even before he was approached by Nishizaki, Yasuhiko knew that Yamato was going to be produced. However, he didn’t think that he would be involved in it at first.

Apparently, Yoshihiro Nozaki, who was in charge of design production at Mushi Pro and also on Yamato recommended me for the job. I met Mr. Nozaki at a coffee shop near Tokorozawa Station before he officially approached me. He proudly showed me the proposal for Yamato and said, “I’m going to do this kind of work.”

When I saw Yamato‘s design, I said, “Can this be done as a visual? That’s amazing.” We got to talking about it and he asked me, “Why don’t you work on it?” I didn’t say a word, and I didn’t think they would bite after that. But someone contacted me and asked me to go see a preview of the pilot film at the studio. That’s when I met Nishizaki for the first time.

The pilot film used a photography technique called optical compositing, where the background receded while Yamato approached the foreground, yet both were in focus. I remember being very surprised to see expressions that I had never seen before in anime. I also realized a lot of money must have been spent on it. Sunrise at that time was doing things that were too advanced to even be mentioned at Soeisha.

(Read all about the pilot film here.)

Noboru Ishiguro, who was the animation director of Yamato, also participated in Zerotester and directed it, so he knew about me. I thought he was the one who recommended me, but after he passed away I found out that it was Mr. Nozaki. I didn’t know that at all until rather recently. I had a lot of drinks with Mr. Nozaki, but we never talked about it. He was that kind of person.

At the preview of the pilot film, Yasuhiko met Nishizaki for the first time. His impression was that Nishizaki was an impactful person, just like the “bad rumors” he had heard.

When I met Nishizaki himself for the first time, he seemed like a big man. I had heard rumors about him, and he seemed to have a villainous atmosphere. (Laughs) He looked a little like that, but not completely.

When I watched the pilot film I thought, “This is amazing” and I was overwhelmed, but as soon as the screening was over, he started yelling at the staff. “This is not right!” I was like, “That’s not good enough?” I was a little taken aback. I wondered what he was looking for in the animation.

I had the impression that he was scary, but when we actually started working together, I found that most of the storyboards I drew were almost perfect the first time. He would say, “I don’t like this part,” or “This scene should be longer.” I would check the storyboard myself, so I don’t remember him getting angry.

Yasuhiko storyboards from Yamato Episode 6 (Titan)

The first storyboard I drew was for Episode 6. He praised the beginning of the scene, saying, “I like the way you’re going in!” He liked me for some reason, and I did about 10 storyboards out of the 26 episodes. If you consider that much participation, I did about half of the work.

For the Yamato TV series, I got the final draft of the scripts, and based on that, I had to storyboard it by the deadline, which was fine. But for the next movie Farewell to Yamato, I had to go along with it from the very beginning.

Every time there was a meeting it was like, “Here we go again.” They were extremely long. Nishizaki loved meetings. I was only paid for the storyboards, but I had to go along with the meetings. I don’t get paid for attending meetings. I had a lot of other work to do. It must have been tough for everyone.

Even so, Nishizaki was still passionate about production.

Though Yasuhiko participated only as a storyboard artist, he did not do any animation for Yamato. He initially took the same stance on Farewell, but in the course of production, he became involved in animating the finale.

I hadn’t planned to do any animation drawing at first, but Nishizaki told me that “the finale is your storyboard, so only you can do it.” So I had to do it. When I was drawing the storyboard, I thought, “Who would draw such a troublesome sequence?” I never thought I’d end up doing it. (Laughs) I still think that’s the hardest sequence I’ve ever worked on.

At right: Nishizaki and Yasuhiko in a 1978 production meeting

In one shot, the hero Kodai carries the dead heroine Yuki Mori in his arms to the captain’s seat, sets her down, and then sits down himself. It was really hard work. I was asked to show it in a single shot. He walked slowly with a princess in his arms against a large background. It was hard to get the lines right.

In the movie theater, everyone is staring at it the whole time, right? Of course, you can’t cheat any of it because someone important is dead and you have to dwell on it. I’m sure the photographers had to reshoot many times. It was very hard work.

After that, Yasuhiko reconstructed Farewell into a TV series when he participated in Yamato 2, which was broadcast in 1978. However, this involvement led to further difficulties.

It was around this time that Nishizaki started to change. Until then, he was the one who took the lead in the meetings. Once I went to a meeting and he was playing Space Invaders in the conference room. He looked at the time and said, “Are you finished?” I’m like, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Yasuhiko storyboards from Yamato Episode 12 (Kodai flashback)

On Yamato 2, I was only credited as a storyboard artist, but I was also asked to do the series composition (story structure). In the movie they said, “Kill the main characters.” But now I was told, “You guys have to figure out how to keep them alive.”

So we were holed up for four or five days for a writer’s retreat at an inn in Kagurazaka. I came up with ideas along with the scriptwriter Hideaki Yamamoto (who participated in Yamato 2 under the name Shunsuke Tatate), and Series 1 writer Keisuke Fujikawa. I didn’t want the public to wonder, “What is he doing?” so I asked them to include my name for series composition, but they didn’t give me credit until the end.

After that, I had a fight with Nishizaki during The New Voyage and had to leave. But at that time I was completely swamped by Mobile Suit Gundam. Gundam started airing in the spring, but New Voyage didn’t wrap until about July.

Anyway, he was usually a pushy guy. You can’t just tell him, “I can’t do it because I have other work to do.” I didn’t have to do it, but there were people who got down on their knees and begged me. Sometimes they’re tough, sometimes they get down on their knees, and sometimes they slap you across the face with a wad of cash. I don’t think many people like that will be around in the future. He is unforgettable, isn’t he?

When I was hospitalized in the middle of Gundam, he came to visit me on his Harley. He had a thick envelope of money in his hands. I think about 800,000 yen. The private secretary who accompanied him thrust the money onto my bed, despite me telling them “I don’t want it.” Thinking, “If I look inside, I’ll be corrupted,” I asked my wife to give it back. He wouldn’t pay me my guarantee, but he’d press me to take something I had no business taking.

Yamato was a one-man operation, and everything had to go through Nishizaki to take shape. On Farewell I was told to throw in a lot of ideas, but none of them remained. They were all Nishizaki’s ideas. I think there were probably other people who submitted ideas, but he made them his own.

Yasuhiko went through a lot of hardships with Yamato. There were many parts of his work that he wasn’t satisfied with, but he recalls it as an important part of his career.

Yamato was a lot of things, but mostly I think it was a big turning point. As I’ve said before, it was a work that a grown man made a big deal out of. In the beginning, I was confused about a lot of things. I was embarrassed to admit that I made anime. I was under the impression that anime was something to be made in secret. “I’m embarrassed to be doing this.” I was taught that it’s okay to make something that is not praised very much in such a big and proud way. That’s what I learned.

I didn’t enjoy most of it, but it was great to be involved in it as a job. Unlike Wansa-kun, it wasn’t a particularly high amount of money. In fact, my impression was that the time loss was much greater.

Go Yoshida’s Master Hunter

Mainichi Shimbun Publishing, March 2020

Order it from Amazon.co.jp here

This unusual book is a treasure trove of interviews with some of Japan’s top anime luminaries from Leiji Matsumoto to Yoshiyuki Tomino. Go Yoshida, a professional interviewer across all media, is particularly adept at getting candid conversations from his subjects. This will become evident very early in this interview with Yasuhiko, the entirety of which is presented here.

A man named Yoshinobu Nishizaki

Yasuhiko: I don’t have any interesting stories like your previous guests.

Interviewer: Eh? Is that so?

Yasuhiko: No, I don’t. Sorry about that. What generation are you from, Yoshida-san?

Interviewer: I’m 45 years old. I bought your first novel Seattle Brawl Elegy (1980, Tokuma Shoten) when I was in elementary school.

Yasuhiko: Is that right? People 10 years younger than me were called the first generation of otaku. But I’m almost 60 years old now, aren’t I?

Interviewer: Speaking of otaku, both you and [Gundam creator] Yoshiyuki Tomino are of the mindset that “you should graduate from anime when you grow up.” If that’s what people who make anime think, did you always regret working on anime?

Yasuhiko: I think it’s because we were aware that we weren’t taking the high road. Tomino is the type of person who works in anime without thinking about it. If it were [Studio Ghibli directors] Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata, I don’t think they would say that. That’s the difference.

Interviewer: Of course, you’re also like that…

Yasuhiko: Yes, I was always conscious that “I’m ashamed to be doing this.”

Interviewer: Is that something that goes away?

Yasuhiko: Now…I’m more open-minded. I don’t think it’s something I can be proud of, but even if it’s crazy, I can’t help being embarrassed about it. It’s just an open mind, isn’t it? I often say that when I was working on Space Battleship Yamato, I saw a grown man like Yoshinobu Nishizaki making a lot of money and going crazy, and I realized that this is also the work of adults.

Interviewer: Did you have contact with Mr. Nishizaki from the time when you were working for Mushi Pro?

Yasuhiko: No, but I heard rumors.

Interviewer: He was rumored to be a strange person.

Yasuhiko: A strange, troubling, frightening, or just plain weird person was coming. Like a Yakuza was coming.

Interviewer: I see. (Laughs)

Yasuhiko: That’s how it sounded. Like a Yakuza with money was coming in to take over.

Interviewer: Mr. Nishizaki took over Mushi Pro.

Yasuhiko: I could see that very clearly in his favorite American car. I don’t know if it was a Lincoln or a Chevy, but it was this long car, and it somehow got into the parking lot of Mushi Pro in Fujimidai. It forced its way diagonally into the narrow parking lot. I wondered how it had gotten here. For Yamato, I drove to Leiji Matsumoto’s house in Oizumi. But the roads in Oizumi are narrow, so I couldn’t get to the Matsumoto residence. I had no choice but to park the car on the way and sweat profusely as I walked. (Laughs)

Yasuhiko storyboards from Yamato Episode 14 (Octopus storm)

Interviewer: What did you think of Nishizaki when you first met him?

Yasuhiko: When I was working at Mushi Pro, we were very far apart. At that time, he trusted [writer/producer] Eiichi Yamamoto very much and said, “Do what Eiichi says.” And he taught me a lot. He was like the ace of Mushi Pro. I was afraid he would have more to teach me than Nishizaki. But I became disillusioned with him later.

Interviewer: Eh? What happened?

Yasuhiko: It was after the movie version of Yamato. He was an unprincipled person. You can write that if you want.

Interviewer: Wah! But didn’t he do what Mr. Nishizaki told him to do?

Yasuhiko: Eiichi Yamamoto was not a good person. But I still liked Nishizaki.

Interviewer: Still!

Yasuhiko: I still liked him. There were a lot of problems, but if someone asks me to work with him, I can’t say I don’t want to. The one time I said no was much later in the Yamato series.

Interviewer: It’s amazing that you don’t dislike someone who put you through so much.

Yasuhiko: Yeah, he was interesting.

Interviewer: I understand that he was interesting, but he was definitely someone you shouldn’t get close to.

Yasuhiko: Yes, if you got close to him, a lot of bad things would happen to you. It’s difficult.

Yasuhiko storyboards from Yamato Episode 21 (before the Rainbow Cluster battle)

Interviewer: You’ve been through a lot, haven’t you?

Yasuhiko: Yes, I have. Most of the people I associated with were trouble. The worst thing is when they have money, but they don’t pay well.

Interviewer: They spend money on themselves.

Yasuhiko: Yes, but they don’t pay what they should. When Mushi Pro went bankrupt, I was in a lot of trouble because of non-payment, though not directly. I was a day-to-day person, and I didn’t get paid.

Interviewer: But you didn’t hate him.

Yasuhiko: Right. Nishizaki was still an interesting character. Later on, there was a lawsuit with Leiji Matsumoto, and at that time, most people took Nishizaki’s side. Not Mr. Matsumoto. I told them that I was neutral. Even when the lawyer came to my house, I said, “Matsumoto says Yamato is his, but it’s not, it belongs to both of them.” In the end, Mr. Matsumoto lost the case, didn’t he? Of course. Mr. Matsumoto called me and said, “Everyone went with Nishizaki.” He was also a strange one. He said, “Everyone was drugged!”

Interviewer: Wow! I’m impressed.

Yasuhiko: He said to me on the phone, “Noboru Ishiguro and everyone else was drugged.” I said, “Oh, really?” It was that kind of atmosphere. Nishizaki would say, “I have good medicine, Mr. Masuda.” [Toshio Masuda, writer/director]

Interviewer: It definitely wasn’t good medicine. (Laughs)

Yasuhiko: He’d say, “It won’t make you sleepy.”

Interviewer: Well, I guess it’s useful for people in the animation production field. (Laughs)

Yasuhiko: It’s not a good thing. That’s why some of them might have been seduced. But to Matsumoto, anyone who didn’t take his side was on drugs. I said, “Not me.”

Yasuhiko storyboards from Yamato Episode 23 (approaching Gamilas)

I was a neutral party

Interviewer: From the public’s point of view, Leiji Matsumoto is a decent person. Nishizaki seemed to be the crazy one.

Yasuhiko: That’s what people say.

Interviewer: What I found out from my interview with Mr. Matsumoto is that he’s also a crazy person in a good sense. (Laughs)

Yasuhiko: It’s funny. Maybe they both were, and that’s why Nishizaki started to hate Matsumoto. While working on the movies and such, he would say, “How can I get rid of Matsumoto?” But I would say to him, “Without Matsumoto’s flavor, it won’t be Yamato.”

Interviewer: Because Yamato belonged to both of them.

Yasuhiko: Yes, it belonged to both of them. But when we made Farewell to Yamato, it was different. Nishizaki would say to me, “You’re in the Matsumoto camp!” I told him, “No, it’s not a camp or anything like that.” But he said, “What’s so good about that image?”

Interviewer: So you were just a middle-ranking artist?

Yasuhiko: I mean, objectively speaking, yes. Without Matsumoto characters, it wouldn’t be Yamato.

Interviewer: So Yamato was successful because of the mixture of your different personalities.

Yasuhiko: It wasn’t until the film version that we were able to talk about it. I was called in personally by Nishizaki and asked for my opinion. I only received a storyboard fee, but I was dragged into endless meetings and it wasn’t worth a penny. I reluctantly accepted the storyboarding fee.

Interviewer: Isn’t that the worst!

Yasuhiko: That’s the kind of person I am.

Interviewer: It seemed like he liked driving around in a great foreign car and taking his mistress on his yacht.

Yasuhiko: One of his assistants, Tetsuhisa Yamada, co-authored a book about Nishizaki. It’s an interesting book.

Interviewer: The Man Who Made Space Battleship Yamato: The Madness of Yoshinobu Nishizaki (Kodansha). I read it too, and it was very interesting.

Yasuhiko: I read it without expecting much, but it was interesting to see many stories I didn’t know. I was surprised to find out that he did such bad things.

Interviewer: (Laughs) There was a lot of mischief before Yamato, wasn’t there?

Yasuhiko: Yes, and there was a story about landing on the Senkaku Islands with [politican] Shintaro Ishihara. I wondered why he had a machine gun and such. After all, a yacht like his would be a target for pirates, right? So it was understandable to keep a machine gun on the ship. But there was an incident when they landed. (Laughs) It was the first time I learned about such things.

Interviewer: It was also the first time I learned about his relationship with [actor] Shintaro Katsu. There was probably a drug connection. (Laughs)

Yasuhiko: I didn’t know that. There was no one of that scale in the anime industry. I knew that he had an extraordinary range of friends. Up until then, I had the impression that anime was not something for grown-ups to be doing. It was childish, but I had to do it in order to eat.

Interviewer: But since Yamato, the fan base has changed, and the number of anime fans has increased.

Yasuhiko: So with Gundam, we knew in advance that we could aim for a different target and not worry about the ratings. Even if we were told that the numbers were low and “This is not good,” we didn’t get upset at all.

Interviewer: Even though the first Yamato series was shortened due to low ratings, it became a big boom.

Yasuhiko: Yes, so I welcomed the cancellation [of Gundam]. It was a quicker way to get released.

Interviewer: (Laughs) So you weren’t upset when Gundam was cancelled by being shortened from 52 episodes to 43?

Yasuhiko: No, I was not. I was rather happy about it. That’s where I differ from Tomino. I think he was frustrated. I was surprised that it even got to 43 episodes. In the end, it didn’t make it…

Interviewer: You collapsed in the middle. Is that because you were working very hard?

Yasuhiko: It was an accumulation of things. First of all, I couldn’t finish Yamato 2. (The last episode was on April 7, 1979, and Gundam started on the same day.) Aside from how bad he is at paying money, another one of Mr. Nishizaki’s bad traits is his sheer tenacity. It is so bad. His tenacity might be a key pillar in his being a producer, but it’s to the level of “Are you kidding me?” Like, if you said “I hate you,” most people would respond “Oh, I see,” and hang up, right? He won’t hang up.

Interviewer: He doesn’t care about that. (Laughs)

Yasuhiko: Right. Even if I said, “I’m sorry but I hate you,” he’d say, “Come in anyway. So I just didn’t go in because I’d had it. We had a big fight on the phone in July, and we finally broke up. He said, “Come in” and I finally gave up and said, “I’m not coming in, this phone call is enough.” Gundam started in April, and then I got sick in October. There’s a private hospital in Kotezashi that I still go to. When I was in the hospital, Nishizaki came on his Harley.

Interviewer: On a Harley!

Yasuhiko: Yes, two Harleys came rumbling in. Everyone in the hospital was surprised. And he said, “Well, this is what happens when you don’t listen to me.”

Interviewer: (Laughs) That can’t be true!

Yasuhiko: I said, “No, it’s because you didn’t let me go soon enough.” Then Nishizaki left me a wad of money. I said, “I don’t want it,” and he said, “Just take it!” He’s the kind of person who doesn’t pay when he should, but leaves wads of money when you don’t want it.

Interviewer: I guess it’s a kind of dandyism, like when someone collapses, I’m cool with giving them a lot of money.

Yasuhiko: It’s not cool, it’s a philosophy that you can manipulate people with. He stuffed something in the bed and left. It was a thick envelope, and I didn’t look at how much money was in it. I said to my wife, “Please return that.” She took our small child by the hand and went to Kudan. She dropped off the money at his office and left.

Interviewer: You didn’t check the contents of the thick envelope because you thought it might move your heart?

Yasuhiko: I think there was about 800,000 yen in it [roughly $8,000 today]. It was quite thick. But I thought I’d just get my hands dirty if I opened it. I’ll take what I can get, but why should I get 800,000 yen for a visit?

Interviewer: It’s amazing how strong your will is. Wasn’t that a time when you needed money?

Yasuhiko: I wanted it desperarely! But I couldn’t take that. It would be completely useless.

Interviewer: You’re right, if you accepted it, You’d probably keep getting calls afterward.

Yasuhiko: I was a sick person, and if I argued with him, I’d lose. I was impressed by him anyway. There was no other person like that in the industry.

The day the tide suddenly turned

Yasuhiko: Another person who left a deep impression on me was Yasuyoshi Tokuma (founding president of publishing company Tokuma Shoten) and Hideo Ogata (the first editor-in-chief of Animage magazine). Mr. Ogata was also troubling in a way, but I wonder if he was a difficult person to get along with. He was a festive guy and liked to make things loud and exciting. He was like an old man from the countryside of Kesennuma with bad character. He was the type that makes you want to say, “I don’t know this guy.” He’d go in a coffee shop and say things like, “Hey, sis, do you have any miso soup?”

Interviewer: That feels like Tokuma Shoten at the time. (Laughs)

Yasuhiko: Yeah. That was a strange group back in those days, including Toshio Suzuki and others.

Interviewer: They’re more disreputable than you would expect from the Animage company.

Yasuhiko: Yes, at first glance, but I don’t know, I wasn’t that close to it. I never started drinking at lunchtime, but if we went on a business trip or got together for proofreading or something, someone would say, “Let’s go bar hopping!” That’s what it was like.

Cameraman: I was drinking too!

Yasuhiko: The boss is the boss. In a way, Yasuyoshi Tokuma was a suspicious person like Nishizaki. He has a lot of legends and a dark side. I don’t like to use the word purge where Animage is concerned, but I hated it. I thought it had gone far enough.

Interviewer: Recently, Eiji Otsuka published a book about Tokuma Shoten called The 2nd Floor Residents and Their Times. He wrote that at a certain point Animage shifted away from the Gundam style.

Yasuhiko: In other words, they shifted their focus to Hayao Miyazaki. But Gundam still had market value, so I don’t think it can be said that they turned their back on the Gundam brand. To be frank, I think I’m the only one who became useless.

Interviewer: Was that a decision that was made?

Yasuhiko: No, it wasn’t so clear that I can say exactly when he stopped coming to my house. But I thought it was all over for me if Animage didn’t take me seriously. After that, a magazine called NewType came out. But that magazine had its own brand orientation from the start. [The first issue had a Zeta Gundam cover.] Then, there was no other media left. So, naturally, it was the end. That was around 1984, the year of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. After that, I was thinking about when to quit.

Interviewer: At that time, you made Giant Gorg as a director [writer, director, animator, and everything in between], but you didn’t feel that it was a big success. [Read a Yas interview about Giant Gorg here.)

Yasuhiko: Yes, at that time, the airing of Gorg was postponed by the sponsor for six months. During that time, I felt the tide turn. It’s often said that the tide is changing, but back then it really did. It changed in mysterious ways, like someone had turned away and stopped coming to my house. I didn’t feel any response at all. Whether it was a good or bad, there was a lot to think about. For example, maybe the story or the visuals weren’t good enough. But if you put it like that, both Gundam and Yamato would be terrible.

Interviewer: That’s right. (Laughs)

Yasuhiko: Even with Yamato there were a lot of things that should have been put in storage. And Gundam was awful.

Interviewer: You get pulled along by memories of the good times, but the reality was different, wasn’t it?

Yasuhiko: Yeah, just the good parts. We say, “This was good, that was good.” But once the tide turns, you talk about the bad things. Even if I said, “There were some good parts,” no one would look at me. (Laughs) Once that happens, it’s over.

Interviewer: Did the tide turn with Nausicaa and Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer?

Yasuhiko: Yes, Nausicaa, Beautiful Dreamer, and the Macross movie [all 1984]. If you wanted to see something good, you’d go to Nausicaa, and if you want to see something for otaku, you’d go to Macross. People who used to be otaku until the day before created what they liked in Macross. This was not the orthodoxy.

I couldn’t make good children’s anime, and had no desire to do so. I wasn’t an otaku, so I wasn’t going to get into otaku anime. So it became clear to me that there was no place for me. I was going to quit when the time was right. I didn’t want to slink away so miserably, so I tried to quit with a certain amount of coolness. But I ended up quitting without looking cool.

Interviewer: Was it because you had more control over your manga?

Yasuhiko: Yes, as long as I could make a good living. I just draw here (at my house). I don’t have a studio, and I don’t have an assistant. So, if I could get a decent amount of money, it was much better than what I’d get from anime. If I did well, I could even get royalties.

In the midst of Anime’s transition period

Interviewer: I have a simple question. You had been involved in two of the biggest hits in Japan, Yamato and Gundam. Do you feel like it didn’t pay off financially?

Yasuhiko: Yes, because there were no rights involved, just a fee. If you did a storyboard, you got a storyboard fee, and if you did animation, you got an animation fee per shot. The fees for anime are based on the total budget. You can’t earn a lot depending on the other party. I built this house in 1983, but it was because I had built a small house before and it sold. I also published my first art book.

Interviewer: That was the Yoshikazu Yasuhiko Art Book (1981, Kodansha), wasn’t it? I read it in real time.

Yasuhiko: That book sold about 150,000 to 160,000 copies at the time. That was the first time I got royalties. It was a huge amount of money back then. I was like, “Oh, I’m going to get this much?” (Laughs) That’s how I was able to get a loan and build this house. The manga Arion also sold very well, and I realized how amazing royalties were.

Interviewer: I see. I guess that’s why you think of manga when you’re in trouble, isn’t it?

Yasuhiko: I can eat on manga. But when I became a manga artist, I didn’t know any editors in the manga world. I didn’t want to go to Tokuma, and they wouldn’t even say hello to me if I did. It was like, “Who are you? Who’s this guy?” But I guess people changed. After that I worked with two or three editors I knew personally, and they let me draw what I wanted. Still, I haven’t fallen behind in terms of living.

Interviewer: People say that manga is not profitable.

Yasuhiko: Compared to the pay for anime…?

Interviewer: So that’s how it is. (Laughs) By the way, [anime creator] Yoshiyuki Tomino is often said to be an eccentric. What do you think of him?

Yasuhiko: Of course he’s an eccentric. But I don’t think he’s a complicated person. I used to say, “The only person I know who can be called an artisan in the Anime world is Yoshiyuki Tomino.” I’ve seen a lot of directors, but Tomino was the only one who could be called an artisan.

Interviewer: He always tries to put his own aristry into his works.

Yasuhiko: Yes. I think he wanted to do live-action. And since he’s in this industry, I think his philosophy is that if you’re not looking for artistry, what are you looking for? That’s why he studies a lot and is greedy for information. But if you’re asking me if he’s a godlike person with an incredible talent, I don’t think so. (Laughs) The people around him have made him a god in some respects. I guess there are parts where he took advantage of that. On the other hand, there must be a part of him that was taken advantage of. I think he has both good luck and bad luck.

Interviewer: Was it easy to collaborate with him?

Yasuhiko: Yes, it was easy. Especially when we were working on First Gundam, I knew what he was thinking. We were like comrades in a way. But when it came to the sequel, there were various reasons, but he went in a different direction, and I couldn’t follow.

Interviewer: When you got to Zeta Gundam (1985) and Gundam F91 (1991)?

Yasuhiko: Yeah. Around the time of Zeta, they shut me out and said, “Don’t come again, but if you do, make an appointment first.” I was shut out. I wasn’t that kind of person. It was the Media’s fault for putting me on his shoulders. Animage was a success because of Mr. Miyazaki and Toshio Suzuki. I think Mr. Tomino was the one who carried OUT magazine the most. If you carry something, you should carry it to the end. That’s why I still dislike people like [former OUT editor-in-chief] Tetsuo Daitoku.

Interviewer: Whoah!

Yasuhiko: I heard he’s still alive somewhere. I’ve barely talked about him. Daitoku and [editor-in-chief] Masanobu Komaki of Animec magazine. I was never interviewed by Komaki.

Interviewer: Eh? Animec was deeply involved in Gundam, wasn’t it?

Yasuhiko: He was one of the founders of the project, and he used to come to Sunrise every now and then. I was drawing, and he’d come in and say, “Tomino-san, Tomino-san!” But he never spoke to me. Much later, Komaki came along with me to cover something. I said, “Komaki-san, this is the first time I’ve talked to you. You’ve never said a word to me.” He said, “Oh, really? You always seemed so busy.” I said, “Everyone was busy! No one had time to spare back then.” (Laughs)

Interviewer: Why did that happen?

Yasuhiko: I think the guys at OUT wanted to go outside and smoke with them. So I took the work upon myself and it made me crazy. It was like, “Why don’t you take care of the rest by yourself?”

Interviewer: You have mixed feelings about anime magazines at that time, don’t you?

Yasuhiko: Yes, I do. What I can say for sure is that Daitoku, Komaki, Toshio Suzuki, and [NewType editor-in-chief] Shinichiro Inoue were very smart. They were trendwatchers, as they should be. Basically, people in the industry, myself included, were idiots. I think those smart media moguls thought they could do whatever they wanted. Mr. Miyazaki and his friends were more elite, so that was a different story.

Interviewer: So the smart people were able to win over the naive people in the anime world.

Yasuhiko: Yes. But there were certainly victims, too. So I quickly went to a different world, saying, “If they don’t want me, I don’t want them either.”

Creating a work of art

Interviewer: A person who went to a different world. What was it like for you to come back to the world of anime as the supervising director of Gundam The Origin? How did you feel?

Yasuhiko: It was because I couldn’t leave First Gundam behind. I couldn’t complain about how bad it was, no matter what they did to it. I was sure that someone would come out of nowhere and say, “It’s terrible, I’ll remake it.” But you never know how they’re going to tweak it. I thought, “Is anyone crazy enough to rewrite it as a manga?”

Interviewer: That’s very interesting!

Yasuhiko: At first I thought, “There’s no need for me to draw it.” but when I looked at it, I realized I was hesitant because I was no longer involved. But I thought only someone who was involved previously should do it. I was involved, I know the story behind it, and I know what Yoshiyuki Tomino was like. I knew where the loose ends were. I realized that I have the right to rewrite those parts, so I made a push to Sunrise.

When it was done I thought that was the end of it, but things changed again when it was decided to make it into an anime. Even if I told them, “Basically just do it like the original story,” things would change. It was a delicate thing, so I decided to direct it myself. But I won’t do anything else, because I’m done with anime.

Interviewer: Because you learned your lesson. (Laughs)

Yasuhiko: I’ve learned my lesson.

Interviewer: You mentioned earlier that you were shut out by Tomino’s side, but you were also rejected by anime magazines. Was that the case with all of your works? It’s not like you had a dispute or anything.

Yasuhiko: I don’t mind getting into trouble, I like getting into trouble.

Interviewer: You like it?

Yasuhiko: Yes, I do. I get into a lot of trouble. I don’t get into violent situations, and I’ve never hit anyone, but I’ve always been a fighter.

Interviewer: How do you get into fights?

Yasuhiko: In short, it was always a theoretical fight. Talking about Farewell to Yamato, Nishizaki said, “I want the last scene to be about everyone dying.” He said this at every meeting, but in the TV version Yamato 2, he wanted the change the story to bring them back to life. I was the one who disobeyed the most, because I was the one who said, “Aren’t they dead? You said you wanted to kill everyone.” Earlier I said that I couldn’t respect Eiichi Yamamoto. He was also there at the time. He said, “It’s just a story, so we can do anything.”

Interviewer: Ah…

Yasuhiko: I was disillusioned by that. I thought, “So that’s what a story is to him, and that’s who he is.” I didn’t say anything careless, because the others would quickly lose respect for me.

I don’t usually look at the internet, but I was searching for something and I wandered into a little place where someone said, “Yasuhiko is lying, he says he suddenly revived everyone in Yamato 2, but the TV series was determined from the beginning.” I thought, “What the hell is he talking about if he doesn’t know anything about it?”

Interviewer: You didn’t lie, did you?

Yasuhiko: They had already decided to do a TV series, of course. But we didn’t decide to bring them back to life from the start. In short, the first Yamato movie was restructured from a TV series. So now the plan was to make a movie first, make it a hit, and then make more money by turning it into a TV series. In the series, we changed the story of the characters who died at the end of the movie. It wasn’t decided from the beginning that they should live.

Interviewer: So they wanted to tell the story again of how everyone died in the suicide attack.

Yasuhiko: Yes. I was the one appointed to create the series structure at the time. So it was my job to bring them back to life, wasn’t it? Nishizaki told me, “You have to figure out how to get them to the end without dying.” I was the one who most resisted bringing them back to life.

Interviewer: He made you wipe up the mess. (Laughs)

Yasuhiko: So, Keisuke Fujikawa, Hideaki Yamamoto and I would get sequestered into a ryotei restaurant or something in Iidabashi. That’s how they used the money. They’d sequester us into the ryotei and say, “Come up with an ending! Think of something, guys!” It was just, I honestly had no idea what they were talking about.

Interviewer: Just go ahead and kill me. (Laughs)

Yasuhiko: They killed me. I don’t appear in the credits, no matter how many times I look up “series structure/Yasuhiko.” I said to the producer, “I’m spending my valuable time on this, why don’t you put me in the credits?” But in the end, they didn’t. So I spent a lot of time on Yamato.

Interviewer: But you still don’t hate Nishizaki. (Laughs)

Yasuhiko: No, I don’t hate him. He’s human, and I can understand his change of heart very well. I tried to kill Yamato, but it made a lot of money, and I can’t stop loving it. (Laughs)

Interviewer: It can still make a lot of money.

Yasuhiko: Yes, it can still make money, and I love it. I love Dessler and so on.

Interviewer: Nishizaki was like Dessler, wasn’t he?

Yasuhiko: Yeah. It’s like, “Dessler is his alter ego.” It’s easy to understand. Yoshiyuki Tomino is also a bit like that. That kind of childishness. I think that’s the reason he’s a writer. They’re all common sense people, the directors of the world.

Osamu Tezuka and Hayao Miyazaki

Interviewer: Whether it’s Mr. Nishizaki or Mr. Tomino, you like charismatic people.

Yasuhiko: Yeah, I don’t like people without charisma.

Interviewer: Some people say that Osamu Tezuka was an eccentric person, but wasn’t he a person with charm?

Yasuhiko: I only talked to him once, but I think he was that type. He’s become a god, and I hear all kinds of myths about Tezuka. But I’ve also heard a lot of things like, “But the truth is…” “He’s an innocent person…” or “He was jealous…” Once he said to me, “Beautiful characters? So what! I can draw them, too!” (Laughs)

Interviewer: Was that around the time of Brave Raideen and Supermagnet Robo Combattler V, when people were talking about the beautiful villains?

Yasuhiko: Yes. He heard that “beautiful characters” were popular in anime in those days and he said, “I can draw them, too!” (Laughs) I never said a word about it. Not a word about Raideen, not a word about “beautiful characters.”

Interviewer: But you were conscious of it.

Yasuhiko: When you become so famous, you might be jealous of [manga creator] Shotaro Ishinomori. I think that would be part of the real Tezuka myth. It’s not just that he was great, but he was. But I think Miyazaki’s criticism of Tezuka is different. That was said rather recently, wasn’t it? “It was Osamu Tezuka who ruined [the wage structure of] Japanese anime.” That’s not true, no matter how much Mr. Miyazaki says it.

Interviewer: It’s all Tezuka’s fault because he made cheap anime in the first place?

Yasuhiko: Yes, it sounds like that, but it’s not. That’s when trial and error began, to see what could be done within that situation. In those days, fees were not that cheap. Before I joined Tezuka’s company [Mushi Pro] in the 60s, everyone in the anime industry was paying pretty good money. There were remnants of that until Mushi Pro went out of business.

Interviewer: Mushi Pro seems to have treated you relatively well, thanks to Mr. Tezuka.

Yasuhiko: Yes, they paid the same salary as anyone else, and overtime. And they all drove nice cars. Mushi Pro went under in ’73, and then the world went into a recession. Tezuka thought, “If I keep paying animators extra money, I’m going to be in big trouble.” The money was getting smaller and smaller. I don’t think Mr. Tezuka was directly responsible for that. Everyone was sniping at him. “There’s no money in the company. Is he keeping it all?” It was like that. Everyone was spoiled. And when Mr. Tezuka would actually come up with the money from somewhere, it was like, “Look, there it is!” That kind of thing. He was also a victim.

Interviewer: He spent a lot of money on anime. He didn’t want to be told that it was his fault.

Yasuhiko storyboards from Yamato Episode 25 (on Iscandar)

Yasuhiko: Yes. I think that will become clearer. Mr. Miyazaki has the legitimate pride of being involved with Toei. I think he hates anything with the name “Mushi Pro” on it. That’s why he doesn’t like me either.

Interviewer: Eh? Is that so?

Yasuhiko: He didn’t want to meet me. At the time of Gundam, Toshio asked me, “Is there anyone you want to meet?” I said, “I’d like to meet Mr. Miyazaki.” I liked Heidi, Girl of the Alps and Future Boy Conan. But Miyazaki said no. “I don’t know anyone by that name.”

Interviewer: Whoah!

Yasuhiko: How could he not know?

Interviewer: But of course, we don’t know what kind of awareness he had. (Laughs)

Yasuhiko: At that time, Toshio was still coming to my house. I told him, “Miyazaki is amazing, I respect him, too.” And he said, “He reads Animage from cover to cover.” (Laughs) So there was no way he didn’t know who I was. And when I asked to meet Mr. Takahata [Miyazaki’s partner], he also refused.

Interviewer: What’s with the factionalism?

Yasuhiko: Isn’t it dirty?

Interviewer: Why were there so many conflicts?

Yasuhiko: I think it’s because I was a lower rank. I think it’s true to say that it was dubious and petty. Anyone who comes out and gains popularity becomes suspect.

Interviewer: People who made feature-length anime at Toei don’t want to acknowledge that.

Yasuhiko: Yes. Their works were highly respected, and I think they looked down on robot anime. But Hideaki Anno came along [with Evangelion] and was very much loved, and after that it was no problem. Yoshiyuki Tomino also worked with him on storyboards [for Heidi, Girl of the Alps in 1974], so that’s fine. But he doesn’t like me.

Interviewer: What’s that about?

Yasuhiko: If they don’t like me, I have no reason to like them.

Why I don’t watch anime

Interviewer: I’m curious, do you have the same kind of jealousy as Tezuka-sensei?

Yasuhiko: I’m as jealous as anyone else. That’s why I don’t watch anime if I think it will make me jealous. If I’m jealous, I’ll get depressed. If I’m depressed, my spirits drop and I can’t work.

Interviewer: Tezuka-sensei’s jealousy became his motivation, but it’s not like that for you?

Yasuhiko: Yeah, so it’s dangerous for me to watch a movie and think, “What the hell? or “Damn, he’s good!” or something like that. If I think it’s great, I avoid it. That’s why I dislike things without tasting them. I didn’t even watch Evangelion.

Interviewer: You had a bad feeling about it?

Yasuhiko: Yes, I had a bad feeling. (Laughs) I thought it would be a bad idea to watch it. I happened to see Wings of Honneamise by accident, and I was suddenly caught off guard. Then I got depressed and said it was terrible. It made me depressed in a double sense, because there was nothing to it.

Interviewer: No, not at all. (Laughs)

Yasuhiko: It’s one thing to be angry, and another to wonder why they put so much talent into something so empty. Why did they do this much? I was devastated by the fact that they made such amazing visuals. I thought I had seen something bad. I think that was around the time I quit anime, in the late 80s. It was that and Katsuhiro Otomo’s anime.

Interviewer: You mean AKIRA [1988]?

Yasuhiko: Yes. And Robot Carnival before that [1987]. I thought it was better to quit before something else like that came out. He was like, “I don’t care if my work kills people or destroys the company.” When CG hadn’t even started yet, he made a long takes in a single shot. It’s not uncommon for a company to go under because of that, isn’t it?

There was a young director, not Otomo, who said publicly, “To be a decent writer, you have to take down two or three companies.” I wondered what he meant. I thought, I wouldn’t do that kind of work if I had to shut down a company. It would make a lot of people unhappy. Is what you’re making that important? But now this generation was coming up, and they were making these incredible things, like Honneamise, and I felt like I couldn’t compete with those guys. It’s better to get off than to watch and be jealous.

Interviewer: Do you still not watch anime?

Yasuhiko: After I quit anime, there was a period of more than ten years when I consciously stopped watching anime. But gradually I started to watch anime late at night. When I turned on the TV to have a nightcap and go to bed, anime suddenly started up. I went into a panic. (Laughs)

Interviewer: “I don’t want to watch it! (Laughs)

Yasuhiko: “I have to turn it off! Where’s the remote?” And I was like, “I’ve seen something great. Why are they playing anime at this time?”

Interviewer: Mr. Yasuhiko, you said you don’t have any interesting stories, but you sure do!

Yasuhiko: No, they’re not interesting!

More from Yasuhiko:
Read a 1982 interview here and a 2012 interview here.

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