Building the Hachette Yamato, Part 1

by Tim Eldred

The 1/350 Yamato Diecast Gimmick Model is, so far, the largest and most complex commercially-available Yamato in history. To go any larger is to enter a realm where they become one of a kind (feel free to explore that impressive realm here), models so large that they simply cannot be mass produced.

The basis for this kit is the 2202 version of the ship, which measures out at 333 meters. At 1/350, it’s almost a meter long, or 37.4 inches. Prior to this the record holder was a 1-meter long polystone/PVC sculpture from a company called Liberty Planet (see it here). Though technically just a hair longer, it was based on vintage specs and had a bit less “heft.” It certainly did not come equipped with the deluge of internal electronics that sets the Hachette model apart from all others – probably for the rest of time.

Before embarking on this massive project, it’s necessary to lay some groundwork and get the big picture. In fact, here’s a big picture to start us off:

That’s me, and that’s the entire Hachette Yamato as I received it, bit by bit, as a subscriber. I had to go through a Japanese agent to do it, but as soon as I heard this project was happening I got the feeling it was going to be once in a lifetime, and I’d regret it forever if I didn’t hop on board. (If you’d like to avail yourself of a Japanese agent for things like this, you can meet mine here. He’s always open to new clients.)

So what are we looking at in that photo? Those stacks comprise 110 volumes of diecast model parts that came out weekly in Japan from January 2019 to March 2021. A huge commitment no matter how you look at it. Some collectors built their Yamato a week at a time, but I decided to wait until it was all under one roof so I could document it precisely this way.

Remember, that’s what I received as a subscriber. If I’d taken my chances on the store-bought editions (and didn’t miss any), the pile would look like this:

As you can see, the packaging was quite different. Subscribers got most of the volumes in batches of four to cut down on materials, and they would ship earlier. In other words, we would get a bundle all at once that took four weeks to roll out in stores. For this article, we’ll examine how the entire model was delivered, which provides some insight into what it must have taken to engineer this monster.


Individual volumes in a Japanese bookstore (with other weeklies), March 2019



The Test Run

It began in June 2018 with no promotion to speak of. By this time, Yamato 2202 Chapter 5 had swept through movie theaters and merch was flowing regularly. Hachette was already well-known in Japan for creating big-scale models that were doled out in weekly volumes, so it wasn’t a surprise that they (or someone like them) would eventually get around to a big-scale Yamato. What was surprising is that they didn’t go out of their way to tell anyone about it.

Volume 001 arrived in stores June 20. It included a “Startup DVD,” parts for the bow, and a magazine with instructions, encyclopedia pages, and lots of info about the behemoth to come. It was covered in Yamato 2202 Report 23, which can be seen here. The DVD ran 9:45, providing a detailed look at the prototype model with its many features, along with a preview of volumes 2-4. (See screenshots here.)

The subsequent volumes came out weekly, each delivering iconic parts chosen to ignite the imagination and inspire a following. Vol. 2 had the first shock cannon. Vol. 3 gave you more bow parts and a Cosmo Tiger. Vol. 4 jumped to the top of the bridge tower. It was easy to see the thinking behind these choices. And after volume 4…silence.

This didn’t come as a shock. The reason there was no big promotional push was that this was just a 4-week test run to gauge the response. The plan may have been to take a break and continue, or to accelerate forward if the early results called for it. We’ll never know exactly what was on the agenda except to get these four volumes into the world.

If the test run failed, that’s all we would have gotten; a few scattered pieces and a broken heart. Fortunately, it was only the prelude for the real deal.

For me, the big model was just part of the attraction. There was also a Yamato 2202 magazine with each issue. I’d previously collected Yamato Fact File (2009-2011) and was intrigued by the prospect of a 2202 version. What would it contain? There was only one way to find out.

See sample pages from issue 001 here. More to follow, of course.



The Announcement

December 29, 2018

On this day, Hachette launched a dedicated website to promote the full-up release, paced out over 110 weeks. The first volume had a lure-you-in price of 299yen (about $3) and all subsequent volumes would be 1799yen (about $18). Total price over the entire subscription would land somewhere around $2,000.

The light, motion, and sound features were promoted in a TV commercial (see it here) and a 7-minute demo (see it here). Close inspection of the demo revealed major differences from the prototype that will become evident as we continue below.

Exclusive bonus products were offered to subscribers: a plastic parts box, a set of three in-scale fightercraft, a personalized metal spec plate, and a customized crew ID card. Subscribers who ponied up an additional 250yen a week would receive a large acrylic display case at the end of the run. More on these later down the page. Now it’s time for launch!



Volumes 1-4 Redux

Volume 001 of the for-real-this-time model arrived in stores (and subscribers’ mailboxes) on January 30, 2019. As a point of reference, 2202 Chapter 6 had come and gone by this time, and Chapter 7 was due in just about a month. So the bulk of the kit would stretch over two years after the series ended.

For those who invested in the test run editions, the first question was, “What’s different?” The answer was, a LOT.

Right off the bat, placing the 2018 and 2019 boxes side by side indicated significant evolution.

The foldout page at the start of the magazine told an even clearer tale. Here’s the 2018 version…

And the same foldout from the 2019 version…

As you can see, the differences abound from stem to stern. Everything about it shows a wealth of refinement, from hull markings to additional lighting points to the overall hull color itself, which evolved from grey to blue. Naturally, these changes were most evident in the parts themselves.

Volume 001 also started with the bow, but the parts were completely retooled for a different assembly, split up at their natural seams and painted blue.

The Startup DVD was repackaged and completely refreshed, reusing the 7-minute demo posted at the official website. The rest of its 11 minutes was given to subscriber info and a preview of the next three volumes.

The most obvious change, as indicated on the DVD, was internal. In the 2018 version, we would have only gotten a view of the engine. In the revised model, we’d also get the hangar barrel and a whole squadron of Tigers.

The upgrades continued in volume 002. That’s the 2018 version on the left, and 2019 on the right. Same gun, very different construction.

And more with volume 003. In the 2018 version, the Cosmo Tiger II was preassembled. Not so in 2019. And the color change became even more pronounced when you could see it on a flat surface. Incidentally, they both contained the captain’s cabin at the top of the bridge tower, which led into volume 004.

This is where the first packaging alteration turned up. At left is the 2018 version of 004, which essentially matched the store-bought 2019 version. Subscribers, however, got an unadorned combo pack of 004 and 005.

The box contained the same parts as store-bought editions, just combined into one box along with their corresponding magazines.

Comparing the 2018 volume 004 with the 2019 version again showed major differences. Both delivered the topmost structure of the bridge tower, but 2019 went farther with part of the lower hull. And since this is where the 2018 version ended, it was uncharted territory from here on.



The rest of the story

Based on evidence gathered at the time, Hachette ran into trouble with volumes 006 and 007. But it was the good kind of trouble: a huge rush of orders as customers jumped on the train. These two volumes were delayed for subscribers because the more urgent need was to keep weekly store shipments on time. Subscribers could wait; stores had the option of dropping the series altogether if volumes didn’t show up when they were supposed to.

As a result, subscribers got volumes 008 and 009 before these two arrived. But it all came out in the wash. There were rumblings about production flaws as a result of this hiccup. I guess I’ll find out once I start putting the thing together. Anyway, the packaging for 6 and 7 was unique and would not be repeated.

Volumes 008 and 009, meanwhile, reverted to the same packaging as 004 and 005; two volumes in one box. It was around this time that Hachette got past its first stumbling block, and things were about to become much more consistent.

If you bought the weekly volumes in a store, it took four weeks for the packaging to cycle around. If you wondered how on Earth Hachette could come up with a different photo of the model for all 110 volumes, they couldn’t. Or at least, this was more cost-effective.

Subscribers shifted to a different form of packaging, a cardboard box with a color wraparound sleeve; same images front and back every month. Hachette came up with a clever trick to make this sleeve 100% reusable…

What looked like a printed number was in fact a cutout to expose the number of the first magazine inside. Four issues were tucked into that sleeve with the box, meaning the content had to be the exact same size from month to month. The whole thing was wrapped in a plastic mailer and shipped out every four weeks.

Inside the box were four sets of parts, identical to those in the weekly editions. Each was carefully labeled so you wouldn’t mix them up. That’s one thing that impressed me the most as I inspected each new volume; the craftsmanship is beyond meticulous.

Anyway, once Hachette got into this groove it stayed there for a good long while. They got all the way up to the 054-057 set before there was another bump in the road.

The bump came with the 058-061 set. The problem was simple; the parts got bigger. A deeper box was needed to contain them, so it couldn’t use the fancy cutout sleeve. It may seem like an minor detail to focus on, but it activates a train of thought that makes you realize what a difficult product this must have been to plan out. The design and execution of the model is one thing; figuring out how to split it up into standardized packaging is quite another. If we’re lucky, someone will explain it someday.

After this batch, the next four returned to the cutout sleeve. But after the 074-077 set, everything changed again.

Starting the following month (we’re now up to July 2020), the parts got too big for the sleeve again. There was no external packaging at all, just a plain cardboard box. Inside was the usual set of four magazines and their requisite parts.

This was the standard for three months until things went back to normal and the 090-093 set returned to the cutout sleeve. But this was going to be the last one. From there to the end, the pieces varied wildly and box sizes changed from one month to the next.

The finale came on schedule, March 3, 2021. The last Yamato volume was 110, in a box that included the first three Andromeda sets. Subscribers were automatically counted in for the continuation, only needing to take action if they wanted to jump off. Yamato volume 110 was an interesting one to end on, a satisfyingly large and complex control pad that also needed assembly.

But wait, there’s more!



Bonus items

Soon after a new subscriber signed up, the first bonus items arrived. There was a plastic parts case, handy for bits of the ship that had to be “parked” before they could be mated with the hull. With that came a set of three preassembled in-scale fightercraft: a Cosmo Tiger I, Cosmo Tiger II in brown, and a Cosmo Zero in blackbird colors. This was in addition to the squadron that would go into the hangar barrel.

The next bonus that showed up was a pair of binders for the weekly magazines. Great idea, right? All those loose magazines needed to go somewhere. Four boxes were sent out over the course of the 110 weeks, each containing two binders for a total of eight.

They’re handsomely made and seem like a perfect solution, don’t they? You can tell I’m leading up to something, can’t you?

Their fatal flaw is that they’re clip-in style, which automatically limits how many magazines each one can take. This design only allows for 15. At 12 pages apiece, these magazines are not thick. One binder is MANY TIMES thicker than 15 of them. And you couldn’t modify a binder to accomodate more, so they ended up being completely useless. But hey, at least I have EIGHT of them!

As an aside, the magazines didn’t turn out to be quite the cornucopia Yamato Fact File was. Some contain unique artwork and they’ll be presented here as we go along, but there were times when assembly instructions filled the whole issue and pushed out all other content. On the other hand, the magazines got a new lease on life when the Andromeda volumes took over, so there’s still more to come.

Around the midpoint of our subscriptions, everyone received a prompt from Hachette to sign into a special section of their website and register for the next bonus items, which would be personalized. They were received in late 2020; a crew ID card and a metal spec plate to be displayed with the finished model. Both carry the subscriber’s name, rendered in either the Japanese or English alphabet, according to how you signed in.


Photo posted on Twitter by Hiro

Two things happened at the tail end of the run. First, proud builders posted their photos and videos online, demonstrating everything their new lifelong roommate could do. See one such video here and another one here.

Second, the elite subscribers who had paid a little extra each week got a MASSIVE box in the mail…


Photo posted on Twitter by Mizoma 6

…containing the large acrylic display case to keep out dust. Odds of those cases getting filled with smaller models and becoming a makeshift tabletop are pretty close to 100%.

Still others shared images of what it looks like to be confronted with all 110 volumes at once. Twitter user M Nisi3 was able to buy all of them in one shot, describing it as “super expensive.” (Over $3,500!)

And yes, “expensive” is an excellent descriptor for this massive pile of parts. But the payment part is over. When we continue this series, we’ll begin the enjoyment part. I’m told that I might end up hating this thing by the time it’s all put together, but I’ve got a mantle over my fireplace that’s crying out for decor and a 3-foot-plus space battleship seems just about right.

No idea where I’m going to put a 4-foot Andromeda, but that’s a problem for Future Tim.

5 thoughts on “Building the Hachette Yamato, Part 1

  1. Wow, that is the coolest model ever! Was that price tag of $3500 including the shipping? I take it that the assembly DVD is not sub-titled and that Funimation will not dub it.
    I do hope you will post your progress on the website.

    • It’s not an assembly DVD, it’s promotional. An extended ad for the model to prospective buyers. There wouldn’t be any incentive for Funimation to license and import it. All progress will be shared in the future. That’s the purpose of it.

  2. So looking forward to you taking the time to document this Tim, definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity, and thank you again for referring your agent to assist me in collecting all volumes,

    Let me know if you want any documentation of the differences between subscription and store-bought packaging.

  3. Aloha, I have Question. I purchased this kit through hobby link japan and they discontinued issue 110 the final piece before they sold it. Could you send me information on your agent or see if they could a acquire another issue 110 as no one I have talked to has one…
    Thank you
    Steve

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