Yamatour 2010, Part 3

Back up to the previous segment

The highly diversified Shinjuku Wald 9 theater, home of the Armored Trooper Votoms Festival.

Saturday, December 4

This is where I depart a bit from the theme. Space Battleship Yamato isn’t my only favorite anime series. Running a close second is the SF “Real Robot” saga, Armored Trooper Votoms. I mention it here because I had the extremely rare opportunity on this day to see the newest installment on a big screen.

New Votoms anime projects have been appearing fairly regularly since 2007, and this year Sunrise sponsored the Votoms Festival in which three new spinoffs would play one by one in movie theaters. I missed the first one, (titled Case Irvine) by only four days, but I was lucky enough to be in Tokyo for the premiere of spinoff #2, titled Votoms Finder.

Yep, Yamato was playing at Wald 9, too. But I wouldn’t see it there until the next day.

The first screening was introduced by the director and two of the voice actors. I followed only about 5% of what they said, but it didn’t matter. I was just happy to be in an audience of fellow fanatics. Or so I thought. Our hosts left after the 15-minute intro and a huge chunk of the audience (mostly female) got up and stampeded out before the movie could begin. I wondered for a minute if I was meant to do the same, but I stayed in my seat with the rest and the lights soon dimmed for the movie, which was 40 minutes of high-adrenaline, mecha-bashing fun.

Sword told me afterward that the girls were probably just there for the voice actors and didn’t care about what they’d actually worked on. They might have been running out to the lobby for autographs. It made me wonder what originally drew them to these particular stars, and if it was even necessary to work in order to maintain your fame in Japan.

Anyway, if any Votoms fans are reading this, I think you’ll like Finder. It’s short and sweet, uncomplicated and self-contained, and sets up a premise that could make for a very entertaining series if it gets the nod.

Just two of the many jaw-droppers available for online auction at Mandarake’s anime cel store.
Both went for hundreds of dollars the day after I got home.

The afternoon was spent at the awesome Nakano Broadway mall, THE place to go if you’re a diehard anime/manga fan. This is the birthplace of Mandarake, the very best place to part with your money. Mandarake stores elsewhere in Tokyo (and other cities) are standalones, but here in Broadway they’re divided up into specialty shops; one for art books, one for model kits, one for antique toys, one for used magazines, one for manga, etc. Pick your favorite category and dive in. Every time I do so, I resurface with previously-unknown treasure.

It also seems like whenever I go to Nakano Broadway, I was fated to be there at that moment. The first time I walked into a Mandarake store on my 2007 trip, the Yamato theme was playing on the speaker system. When I stepped into that same store in 2008, it was the amazing soundtrack to Macross Frontier. This time it wasn’t music, it was the rollout day of an exclusive Mandarake edition of Hideaki Ito’s book, Yamato Great Chronicle.

Mandarake had designed its own unique dustjacket for the book, modeling it after the famed Yamato Complete Collection of Records design book from 1978 (above left). December 4 was its first day on sale here. While constructing my day plan for this trip, I tried really hard to schedule my Nakano visit earlier than this, but things just kept getting in the way. Today I learned that if I had come earlier, this special release would have completely escaped my notice.

And, in fact, I learned later that this was the only time I could have gotten a copy. As it turned out, not all the image rights had been cleared before publication, and Yamato Great Chronicle was pulled from stores on December 5. Thus, it was a very narrow window indeed. I was doubly fortunate (with a little help from my friends) to talk the store clerks into giving me a copy of their promo poster. I sincerely hope for Mr. Ito’s sake–and the world at large–that the issues get resolved and the book gets back into circulation. It belongs in every fan’s collection. (Side note: it’s still available at Amazon.co.jp.)

Attractions at the Oizumi Gakuen train station in Nerima, Tokyo: gateway to the Leijiverse!

After Nakano came the main event: our interview with Mr. Leiji Matsumoto.

Sword Takeda, Patrick Macias, Gwyn Campbell, Walter Amos and I convened in Shinjuku and blasted off to Oizumi Gakuen, the Matsumoto-themed train station near Toei Studio in the Nerima Ward. Some of you may remember it from the first Yamatour. There we snapped photos and the Galaxy Express 999’s conductor welcomed us into the Leijiverse. Anton Kholodov joined our ranks and we set off through Nerima with Patrick recording it all for podcast.

At left: a mural at the Oizumi Gakuen bus stop with a real (giant) autograph.
At right: waiting outside Casa de Matsumoto.

After what seemed like far too long a walk through an eerily darkened suburb (in which we were assuredly the most dangerous thing around) we spotted the green light of the navy watchtower that rises over Matsumoto’s compound. No other term seemed appropriate; his house was notably larger than all the others around it and a metal fence surrounded what in Tokyo terms must be an enormous yard.

We were welcomed inside by an assistant, traded shoes for slippers, and hung a left into the famous interview den seen for many years in video clips and magazine articles. We milled around for a few moments playing musical chairs until the man himself stepped in to greet us.

Gwyn Campbell enjoys the spectacle of Leiji Matsumoto examining artwork by Anton Kholodov.
At right: the private autograph session begins.

This time there was no mistaking him. At that moment we all wondered how we could have accepted any substitute even for a second.

We got down to business right away. With four dense pages to get through, I took the lead with questions and the sensei took them into directions of his own choosing. After 15 minutes, we were still only on question #2 and trading worried looks. This had the makings of a long night. Sword picked up on this and got Matsumoto back on point, and after a few more minutes the ship was sailing in a straight line.

It became evident to me that he was resorting to pre-fab answers to questions I hadn’t asked, which I’d hoped he wouldn’t do. He had no idea what we knew or didn’t know about him and obviously felt the need to run through a routine. Once we got past this, time was fading and Sword wisely chose not to interpret every word since it was all being recorded. When he later delivered a full text translation, it was as new to me as it will be to you when you read it.

I settled back when my part was over and let the others have their turn. Looking around, I recognized plenty of props and models from interview photos taken in this same space, and stared in wonder at the enormous number of boxes and packages stacked and piled up in the other half of the room. It was probably his only available storage area, which would not have made it my first choice of rooms in which to accept guests. On the other hand, it helped to make him more human and kept the gawky celebrity-worship to a minimum.

We were occasionally interrupted by an assistant delivering tea and Matsumoto’s wife Maki Miyako (herself a famed manga artist and doll designer; see her photo here) who asked at one point, “can they leave?” She wasn’t referring to us. His assistants were waiting around for him to finish some penciling for them to ink. We were actually stopping Matsumoto manga from being made.

After discussion came photos and autographs, which were given generously and received gratefully. Most of the others got original character sketches. I contented myself with a signature in my copy of Yamato Great Chronicle, which now contains the autographs of both Matsumoto and Hideaki Ito.

Finally, the time came for us to make our exit. I was the last one out, since I had my laptop to pack up. This meant I was the last one to tie my shoes as Matsumoto stood over me, the most (if only) awkward moment of the evening. No matter what, I simply couldn’t get those shoes tied fast enough. I feel like I’m still tying them now.

But this made me the last one to shake the hand from which all the magic had flowed. I said, “Thank you, Captain,” and was answered with, “See you again.”

Left to right: Walter Amos, Tim Eldred, Master of the house, Gwyn Campbell, Anton Kholodov,
and Patrick Macias (who didn’t tell any of us it was his birthday).

The walk back to the Matsumoto-themed train station seemed to take no time at all, since we yammered non-stop about the experience into Patrick’s podcast recorder. Anton had been the hit of the evening, tagged by the sensei himself when asked who he’d cast as a live-action Harlock. With the misery of our first attempt at this interview now fading into memory, Sword beamed like a proud father.

If you’ll remember, I predicted that night that the mishap would result in a better interview, and it went way beyond that. We were granted almost three hours from a man we’d all idolized for decades. For nearly three hours, the river stopped flowing for our exclusive benefit.

Okay, I’m done holding it back from you. Read the interview here.

More sightings at Nakano Broadway: Anime World Star’s Yamato shrine which included their custom product line. Above right is an early draft of the movie script for sale in a Mandarake display case. Intriguing, but the $300-plus price tag was beyond even my limit.

Sunday, December 5

No interviews or meetings today, just a very enjoyable final screening of Space Battleship Yamato with Sword at the Shinjuku Wald 9 theater. I’d originally planned to take in my last viewing at a different cinema in Shibuya, but since my advance tickets were only good here, I shifted my plans with no regrets. I’d seen Votoms Finder here the day before, and decided then that Wald 9 would be my favorite theater if I lived here. Their lineup this weekend was an enjoyably eclectic mix of mainstream and SF/anime films. In addition to the Votoms Festival, they had Redline in a late-night slot, some sort of ongoing Anime Film Battle, a reissue of the live-action Battle Royale and a new Garo movie, both in 3-D. I would have gladly taken in all of them had time allowed.

Attractions at the Wald 9: display for the Anime Movie Battle and a stunt suit from the live-action Garo series.

This was only Sword’s second screening of Yamato after he went to the November 1 premiere with Anton, and he was still not impressed. He’s not even remotely a fan of Takuya Kimura, and is too much of a writer to give any slack to another writer. He also explained to me why the movie has no chance of a sequel; in order to generate the quickest possible box office return, the production committee hired the biggest star in Japan. Thus, they could never afford him a second time.

After the film’s first few days in theaters, however, a different picture was forming from the audience demographics. Only about 15% of those polled said they came to see “KimTak.” Over 50% were there to see Yamato. So the franchise still proved itself to be bigger than the star. If that had been anticipated in advance, we could have been on the eve of a whole new series.

Until a Yamato-themed restaurant also opens in Akihabara, we at least have this.

This was my last full day of the trip, so Sword and I zipped around the city to the remaining stores I still wanted to hit.

I was incredibly fortunate that he chose to contact me several months earlier, and by extension so are all of you now reading this. Having made his mark as a well-known Star Wars collector and author (he worked on the original Japanese edition of Star Wars Chronicles before it was translated into English), he moved his focus over to Yamato research and keeps an extensive blog on his findings. He’s turned up some interesting evidence of Japan’s influence on Star Wars, and does some pretty hardcore hardcore detective work on Yamato itself. His heroes are the original designers and the craftsmen who now interpret their work in 3 dimensions. For some of us, the quest for a perfect Yamato will never end.

Dessler and Kodai costumes spotted at the mighty Cospa apparel store in Akihabara. Yuki would join them later in the month.

Anyway, it’s thanks to Sword that this became the most productive Yamatour to date, and the best reward I could think of was to take him along with Anton and myself to the Yamato Party Bonenkai dinner on my last night in Tokyo. (Anton turned up in his medium-sized Black Tiger jersey, which fit him just fine, dammit.) Walter Amos and Gwyn Campbell joined us to make it a truly international gathering. Familiar faces greeted us with smiles in Ikebukuro station and we were off to a private room in a local restaurant.

Over the course of the meal, we learned that some of the guys had “gone pro” since we saw them a year ago and worked on the Yamato Resurrection Complete Box for Enagio Studio (Yoshinobu Nishizaki’s company). I’d gotten my copy of it just a few weeks earlier, so I could proudly say that I’d supported their work. It came with one heck of a bonus item, a bottle of the actual sake drunk by Dr. Sado. It shipped separately to my buying agent in Tokyo, so I asked him to hold onto it for my arrival. I had a feeling it would come in handy at some point, and this was it.

I got a round of cheers when I brought it out and filled everyone’s glass–on the down-low since it was definitely not a B.Y.O. eatery. I didn’t think the odds were good that I could fly it home safely, so I chose instead to enjoy it with friends who could truly appreciate it. (And I don’t know much about sake, but this stuff was goooooood.)

Next I held up three unused advance movie tickets that were now useless to me and got three eager takers who instantly bought them. To these fans, they’re more than just tickets, they’re collectibles.

Sword had been welcomed into the fold by then, talking energetically about our exploits. The guy he really wanted to meet was Noboyuki Sakurai, who has been a professional modeler for many years. His work is often showcased in Dengeki Hobby Magazine, the new issue of which had just been published. Known to the modeling world as THE Yamato guy, he was assigned to build the just-released-that-day 1/500 model kit from Bandai and his photo-spread was in that very issue of Dengeki. Another member of the gang had brought the kit itself, so we all got a closeup look. (Mine had to be shipped home along with other things that were too big for luggage.)

Left to right: Eisuke Ogura (co-author of the Yamato Resurrection Complete Box), Nobuyuki Sakurai
(professional modeler for
Dengeki Hobby Magazine) and Anton Kholodov (junior Black Tiger).

The evening culminated with the arrival of Mr. Hirotaka Furukawa, COO and CFO for Enagio Studio, who (to my complete surprise) had come to meet me. Since Enagio was unable to accommodate my request for an interview, he felt it necessary to deliver an apology in person. Now that’s class.

As part of our conversation, he announced to everyone in the room that Shouji Nishizaki would be formally introduced as the full inheritor of his father’s rights at the public funeral on December 10. (Anton was there and sent a full report; see the link below.) Thus, everything started by the father would be continued by the son. Yamato would go on.

At left: Anton, Gwyn, Walter Amos, me, and Sword Takeda. At right: Sword, Yamato Party Chairman Masaru Enomoto,
Eisuke Ogura, Nobuyuki Sakurai, and…wait, how did he get in this picture, too???

The first big project to come in 2011 is the Director’s Cut of Yamato Resurrection. I originally thought this would simply involve the restoration of 14 minutes of cut footage, but the sound is also being redone; newly-designed sound effects will be replaced by original vintage ones, and all the classical music tracks will be replaced by Miyagawa score. Knowing this gives me a whole new outlook on Enagio’s intentions. The fate of a sequel is still unclear, but we learned that the original intention was to make a trilogy; Kodai would travel to the “black hole dimension” to find Yuki in part 2 and everyone would find their way home in part 3. Let’s hope fate allows that to happen.

There is a new TV series in the early planning stage as well, but it would be premature of me to say anything about it. For now, we can all rest assured that Enagio’s top priority is to take us off to outer space again. As I said to Sword when we parted after dinner (below right), “This is just the beginning.”

Monday, December 6

The lightning round! With only a few hours left before departure, every minute counted. I zipped back and forth for some last-minute acquisitions, returned to Nakano for a farewell lunch, then met up with Anton for the last time in Shinjuku. He helped me haul my bags to the station, and with a good half hour to spare we did something you can’t do in America any more: visited Tower Records.

This was equivalent to our mad dash the previous year when we went looking for the Yamato Resurrection CD singles and found them at HMV. Well, HMV was gone this time, but Tower was still there, apparently its last bastion on Earth.

Something told me we’d strike gold here, and we certainly did. I’d gotten a recommendation a couple weeks earlier to seek out CDs by a group called Platina Jazz, who did two innovative albums of anime cover tunes. Previous searches turned up empty. Tower came through. Anton was still looking for the Yamato movie soundtrack and the second BGM album from the old days. Here too, Tower came through.

Now that’s how to spend your last half-hour in Tokyo, checking the last couple items off your wish list. Moping around on an empty train track would have been just plain wrong.

The actors were there to see me off; Takuya Kimura’s billboard in Shinjuku looked right into my departing train track, and there he was again with Meisa Kuroki and Reiko Takashima (Dr. Sado) in a bookshop at the airport. So long, Yamato crew! See you on DVD!

In the end, it’s hard not to think of this as my best Tokyo trip yet. The hits just kept coming. Everything worked out better than expected, and no amount of extra shopping would have improved it. Luck followed me all week long, and new friends mixed effortlessly with old ones. It took lots of time to unwind it all afterward, but that just served as a reminder of what a rich experience it was. My inaugural trip in ’07 was all about the shopping. But now Tokyo is a place of people who know me and support what I do. That’s worth way more than the next hot CD or model kit or art book. It’s an infinite resource.

Anyway, that’s enough from me. There are two more travelers with their own Yamatour experiences to share with you.

Click here to read Anton Kholodov’s story in which he attends the public memorial service for Yoshinobu Nishizaki and has yet another encounter with Leiji Matsumoto.

Click here to read Walter Amos’ account, which includes more amazing encounters than anyone should expect on their first Tokyo adventure.

In closing, while there is currently no new movie announcement for 2011, there will certainly be another Yamatour. Tradition demands it.

The End

Once again, this year’s take was substantial (each item is at the top of a pile). Well done, Kodai. You’ve come a long way.