An eyewitness report by Sword Takeda, edited by Tim Eldred
Photos by Gwyn Campbell
On Thursday May 5, a holiday in Japan, a kind of abrupt event was held: the YP2011 Yamato Fan Gathering.
YP stands for Yamato Party. Usually YP is held in a year when there is no official Yamato project. The exception to this was in early 2009, when it was held despite the year-end release of Yamato Resurrection. (It turned out to be the first place anyone got to see footage from the film; read our full report on the event here.)
This year, there was no plan to hold the event. So why did it happen? You might imagine it was because of the huge earthquakes and tidal waves on March 11. And it is true that one purpose of the event was to raise donations for casualties and refugees. So the place and the date were quickly chosen. Did many people come? Was the event a success? The answers are yes, very many and yes, very successful.
Gwyn Campbell adds: YP is a fan-run event by the fans, for the fans. The ground-zero of Yamato fandom. In the waiting room before the doors opened, a group of organisers was busy folding a huge stack of program books to be handed out. Everyone who attended received Yamato postcards, small figures (from a soft drink promotion a couple of years ago) and even a copy of the 2010 Yamato calendar. Yes, it was out of date, but the organizers noted that with a good pair of scissors it could be turned into a great set of posters! All this and ticket to the party itself was only 700yen! Similarly, the merchandise table featured lots of old merch. Pencil boards, stickers and posters from the 80’s, covered with a fine layer of dust, available for only a couple of hundred yen each.
The event was held in an auditorium in the Suginami Ward of Tokyo. It began at noon on May 5 and was divided into three parts.
First was a special guest appearance by Yamato veteran Takeshi Shirato. Mr. Shirato is one of the few whose involvement goes all the way back to Series 1 right through to Resurrection, which makes him one of the true Yamato luminaries. Nobuyuki Sakurai, the host for this segment, asked many good questions and Shirato answered promptly, saying much about the late Yoshinobu Nishizaki. A record of his comments is presented below.
After breaking for a half-hour, the second part got underway: a fan panel on Yamato Resurrection. What do you think of Kodai’s beard? Was it the right decision to show Yuki’s exposure? The panelists commented, then the audience expressed their agreement or disagreement, and fun was had by all.
After another half-hour break, the charity auction began. The offerings consisted not only of artists’ hand-drawn and autographed picture cards, but also important artifacts from the days of Office Academy, such as one-of-a-kind promotional posters or foreign art books used as film reference.
Sketches by Tomonori Kogawa, Keisuke Masunaga, and Takeshi Shirato got the highest bids. Between the auction and general donations, the total money raised for Earthquake charities totaled about $5,600.
See a gallery of some of the display and auction items here.
The auction was followed by a game of “character bingo” and a short Q&A session with Hirotaka Furukawa, the Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer of Enagio Studio, the nerve center of new projects. Naturally, questions focused almost entirely on future plans, and though he was short on direct answers, Furukawa did confirm that Yamato is still very much a going concern at Enagio. In addition to the Director’s Cut of Resurrection (now in the last stages of production), there is a strong desire to make a sequel and pursue other projects as well.
Finally, we all sang the Yamato song at 4pm. YP always ends with a group rendition of the 4-verse version of the theme (see lyrics here), and this tradition was upheld.
Everything went smoothly by the handiwork of Kaicho [President] Masaru Enomoto who had managed all the previous Yamato parties. The event proved that Yamato is still alive among at least two generations of avid fans with more new fans on the way.
Takeshi Shirato Interview
Pictured above, left to right: professional modeler Noboyuki Sakurai, Takeshi Shirato, YP Chairman Masaru Enomoto.
The fans were half expectant and half anxious about what they would hear from one of the few remaining Yamato elders.
Right after Yoshinobu Nishizaki died last November, only negative comments from famous Anime creators such as Leiji Matsumoto and Yasuhiko Yoshikazu were spread around the web. But with the help of Nobuyuki Sakurai’s casual and respectful hosting, Mr. Shirato’s frank memoirs only proved that the classic tycoon-type producer certainly had both dark and light sides. And both were necessary to make Yamato as it is.
We also came to know that Shirato actually worked on Resurrection not only during the prep stage but in real production for the 2009 release as well as the coming Director’s Cut.
Presented here is a summation of Mr. Shirato’s comments…
Nishizaki called three times wanting to meet me but I did not take it seriously.
At the last minute drawing stage of the final episodes of Devilman, I was at a cheap counter bar escaping from the hectic schedule. Then a huge white Lincoln drove into that narrow alley. Entering the bar, Nishizaki asked, “O.K.who is Takeshi Shirato?” since he did not know my face.
I was just 26, wearing jeans, and asked to see the character design sheets of his project. He showed me a picture of Yamato and I wondered who could animate this kind of thing.
So I joined anyway and provided some character design sheets. Sometimes faces are by Okaseko, bodies are by Ashida, and my contribution remained only their shoes!
Later, a funny thing was that Yamato‘s first bridge still had some more seats to fill. Director Noboru Ishiguro suggested that I design the remaining crew. They are Aihara [Homer], Nanbu [Dash], and Ota [Eager]. They all survived to the end. They had a longer life than some of the main characters, like Shima.
I was assigned to episode 2 [of Series 1] and it was my first Yamato job. It was tremendous work. But I was young enough to think all jobs were good experience. Yet the circumstances were so tight. My daughter was two or three then, so there was no chance to see the actual broadcast of Yamato. (because of Heidi.)
The usual process for shooting retakes was not the case for Yamato since most scenes had some cel scratches. If you pulled them out, you had to make cels all over again, which was impossible.
My style is not typical these days. The current tendency is beautiful still images rather than dynamic motion. Mine is more hard-boiled blue-collar and probably not appropriate for animators these days. But at the time it was O.K.
The tracing machine was just introduced. All of us animators tried to draw as dynamic as possible since pencil lines could now be exactly copied onto cels. No more thin, static and too-delicate pen lines.
My background as an animator comes from my mentor, the late Kazuo Komatsubara. I learned a lot about physical features of human bodies from our work on Tiger Mask [a wrestling anime, 1969-71]. I also once drew for Golgo 13 Kami-shibai [paper theater]. So the physical type of thick eyebrows and manly characteristics are my nature even on Kodai [Wildstar]. To be honest, looking back at the Kodai I drew, I sometimes wonder who this character is. He is much more like Naoto Date, the true identity of Tiger Mask, than Susumu Kodai. (Editor’s note: coincidentally, they had the same voice actor.) And General Domel [Lysis] fits my style perfectly.
Those days it did not matter if characters look like the reference sheets. Animators had the freedom to animate as much as they wanted.
I loved Captain Okita and I believe my version of him looks milder and gentler.
My production studio Tiger Pro and I really put ourselves into it on episode 22 (the battle against Domel’s fleet at the Rainbow Star Group) and it took 48 to 50 days to complete.
In later years, Nishizaki assigned me with storyboarding. Yoshikazu Yasuhiko had previously been assigned, so he got really mad. He left for Gundam anyway and I took his part on The New Voyage. Then gradually I came to be known as ‘Eh-konte no Shirato’ (Shirato, storyboarding specialist).
The storyboarding of Be forever Yamato did not get any revisions, so I underestimated the work for Final Yamato. The movie was divided into multiple parts. Part A got no revisions, so that was good. Part B got it eight times over. So on the cover page of part C, I wrote jokingly “Retake of Aquarius” and “This is the end” on part D.
There were piles of 5B and 6B pencils on my working desk. One day I started getting a paralyzed feeling in my hand and I learned it was tenosynovitis. Since then I use soft and darker B5 to B6. By tilting and using the edge, you can even draw the thin lines of H pencils.
One evening last November  a newspaper reporter called and asked me whether it was true that Producer Nishizaki died. I did not know at all and said so. Nishizaki’s last words to me were to leave the Resurrection Director’s Cut in my hands, and I confirmed his assurance of no more retakes. The reporter said he would check and later called me back to say it was true. That was how I learned of Nishizaki’s death. Then I thought, now I lost someone to fight with.
We actually fought. He could not draw, and when his words did not work, the frustrated producer threw ashtrays or ball point pens. And I threw back. But on the other hand he sometimes begged me, literally bending his body and put his head on the floor. He showed me respect in his unique manner.
He sometimes pushed illogical sequences. For Be Forever he demanded that Sasha’s hair wave on the deck. My first storyboard shows her wearing a helmet. So after removing the helmet, I added the transparent dome Yamato once had in the Octopus Storm episode. He did not like it so it had to be deleted. That was typical of him, and now tycoon producers like Nishizaki can no longer be born, especially in the Japanese anime business.
Looking back, in those days it just felt tough and hard but now I know that toughness trained me. It became the basis and foundation of my being today.
BONUS REPORT: The 50th Shizuoka Hobby Show
At the Yamato Fan Gathering, Gwyn Cambell told me he was surprised at the popularity of the Yamato characters. Most fans are mainly interested in mecha and hardware. I agree, since the fan meeting had some seats for character-oriented fans that are usually girls or used-to-be girls.
About ten days later, there was an event only for Yamato mecha fans, certainly for boys and used-to-be boys. Shizuoka prefecture’s representative industry is plastic model kits.
Most of the major manufacturers such as Tamiya, Bandai, Hasegawa, and Aoshima have factories in Shizuoka.
Why there? Once, this prefecture had bays and docks for wood. Before plastic model kits were invented, this area produced wood models. So naturally, Shizuoka became a plastic model base.
The Shizuoka Hobby Show had its 50th Anniversary this year on May 14 and 15. There, Finemoulds announced two curious models. They are titled Leiji Matsumoto Mechanicle (mecha+choronicle) Universe. The shape is familiar to classic Yamato fans but the paint schemes look quite new.
The Okita Ship lookalike is named “Fleet flagship.” The Yukikaze lookalike is named “Missile Escort Ship.”
By “coincidence,” both are 1/500 scale, identical with last year’s Bandai release of the new 1/500 Yamato. Fans in Tokyo who could not visit Shizuoka this time would have a second chance; a similar showcase of new products would be held in Tokyo a few months later.
But another event was held there simultaneously that has no second chance, at least until next year: the 22nd Modelers Club Total Exhibition. It demonstrates the potential and enjoyment of model making, like the “B side” of a record about plastic models. This has not been widely reported, so for years only limited numbers of Shizuoka citizens and hardcore modelmakers and kit/diorama builders knew about it.
But this year, things totally changed; since modelmaking bloggers joined the event, people have learned about it through the web. So the first day, Saturday the 14th, was packed full, really hard to walk through! This was not the case on the opening day of past shows. And some brave kit builders brought their own new Bandai Yamato.
But more importantly, there is an exhibitor group called Club Kichiusen, “Space Water Liners.” The representative Seitaro Ohki previously belonged to another club named Kissui-sen no Kai, “Waterliners.” Waterliners began in 1993, and first showcased their work in 1994.
Here is a photo of their 2004 exhibit:
And here is their 2011 exhibit:
Ohki thought it would be fun to have a space version.
“Space Water Liners” started in 2006 and debuted in Shizuoka last year, 2010. See photos from their 2010 exhibit here.
This year it got much bigger and more beautiful! See the 2011 photos here. (Get your drool cup out first.)
See other photos of the 50th Shizuoka hobby show here.