Tokuma Shoten’s famed Roman Album book series made its publishing debut in September 1977 with volume 1 dedicated to the first Space Battleship Yamato TV series, and chugged along at a steady clip afterward. It was practically a monthly event to find a new volume in bookstores, leading all the way up to volume 36 in October 1980. This one was devoted to Be Forever, and it definitely delivered the goods. (Read a description of the contents here.)
The editorial staff of a Roman Album made it a point to collect essays from production staff members, which were always enlightening for fans wanting a look behind the curtain. Here are the essays for Be Forever, translated by Tim Eldred with assistance from Sword Takeda.
On Creating Be Forever
At the end of Farewell to Yamato, “Yamato was already over.”
I had fallen into various complicated situations because I insisted that I didn’t want anyone to be killed. So now, there is Be Forever Yamato. The significance of Farewell and the second TV series was strong. And I don’t want you to think of it as a continuation of The New Voyage.
In the original draft of Be Forever Yamato, we talked about having it take place 300 years after the previous work. But as for the Yamato crew, even if we called them the descendants of Kodai and Dr. Sado, the original blood wouldn’t circulate in these characters very much, and I didn’t feel like this was the way to go.
To us on the staff, Kodai, Yuki, Shima, and the other characters feel like our friends, our brothers, even our other selves. We might even name our offspring after them. So we decided to set the story just a few years later after all. However, six years had passed since the first launch of Yamato. It was tricky to make everyone older, so it was decided that at least externally, Kodai would still be 18.
The only trouble was what to do with Sasha. She couldn’t be involved in the drama as a baby. Therefore, we gave an eye to her characteristics as an “alien” with mixed blood. We decided that she would grow to 17 in one year and then develop afterward at the same tempo as an Earthling.
We also made elaborate plans for the setting this time. Even if it was a good story, it would be spoiled if the setting was weak. The concept of the double galaxy and the new galaxy arose from that. I believe you will surely be satisfied with the combination of drama and SF.
First I read the story draft and get an image of the overall outline. This story is fairly mature compared to previous works, so when we clean up the main characters (for the final version) they are able to look more dramatic. I raised the age somewhat for Kodai, Yuki, and the other characters and generally corrected their flow. Design of the new characters started after this.
Of the new characters, Shinya Takahashi designed Sasha and Sada while Takeshi Shirato took charge of the roughs for 2nd Lieutenant Alphon. The images for the Great Emperor and Captain Yamanami came from Mr. Nishizaki. There were three tries for Yamanami and several for the Emperor.
I drew roughs of other characters myself and got the OK from Mr. Nishizaki. I was most satisfied with the designs for the Great Emperor (Leiji Matsumoto drew some of the roughs), Alphon, Kazan, and Grotas. I gave real attention to these designs to uphold the realistic narrative and not make them too much like ordinary manga characters.
This time, because I started designing characters from the initial story draft, many of them disappeared when the script was written, so it’s regrettable that they could not all be used.
Random Thoughts on Yamato Art Design
The editorial staff from the Roman Album asked me to write something about the art design for Yamato, about five pages. Though I said “yeah, no problem” and thought it would be easy, I’ve been bad at composition from the time I was in elementary school, so I’ll write as well as I can.
The inside story of a stagehand in anime is no joke. With the present anime boom, people say, “that’s a great job.” But it is not an easy one, and nothing to be envied. First, it’s because a designer works behind the scenes, and doesn’t swim in the spotlight as an animator. Production is not glamorous, so me getting the chance to write about it is one in a million.
Doing the job of art design requires a lot of careful thought. If you have more highly-developed brain cells, you wouldn’t use them on small-scale things like mecha design for anime, you’d become an international engineer that spreads his wings into the world and do real spaceship design, etc. But to tell the truth, in anime our brains don’t rise to that level. This world is a severe one, so it’s important to stay healthy and in good physical condition or we lose our sense of cycle when our brains get overworked. Really!
The basic principle of art is the same as that of a professional storyteller, to turn what we see into drawings. From a locomotive to lipstick, from the design of a spaceship to a croquette eaten by Dr. Sado, to designing a modern space city to meet a request for a certain feeling, it’s important to observe all things with curious eyes.
Especially in an SF story set in space, the spaceship is actually built in the art design. If a design for an ultra-modern city doesn’t hold up, the entire story comes crashing down. Therefore, when I say part of my design is truth, I’m being serious.
It’s especially serious in Yamato, since design is a great big lie. Fortunately, in Yamato‘s case, there is already a design system. Because the basic design of the previous works is unchanged, I can borrow from that.
My design assignment was to take charge of the Yamato itself, Earth-related things like the new control room of the EDF command base, the supply base, the interior of the mother planet, the false Earth, etc. Mr. Itabashi designed mecha for the Earth forces, and I designed mecha for the Dark Nebula Empire. Mr. Itabashi had absorbed enough of Mr. Matsumoto’s touch to finish them.
While working, I got a feeling for Mr. Nishizaki’s “Nishizakism.” It was thoroughly injected into the heads of the entire staff. Wave-Motion energy was charged to 100% with all valves open. Head pounding, stomach churning. The staff frequently worked with bloodshot eyes.
In the case of Yamato, design is done independently. It begins when the staff is organized and gets their head around the plot after reading it for the first time. A lot of ideas are discussed in brainstorming sessions until everyone gets steeped in the Yamato sensibility. The work starts from the point when the definite plan is settled. Naturally, it’s just a lot of ideas and not everything is written down, so it can be worrying.
When I submit a rough design, it is rare for it to be approved at once. The director and producer sometimes ask for the impossible, and even though I thought the first design gave them what they wanted, I go and do it again, mumbling and complaining in secret.
A writer turns the basic ideas into a script by turning thin scene descriptions into stage direction and adding detail. With the repetition of things like that, the story gets into our heads and in that respect it’s like getting to know it without studying it, and for that we are thankful.
The design work for this Yamato ended in mid-May, followed shortly by the conclusion of the scriptwriting, and we got envious looks from the rest of the staff. I was allowed to take a rest, but I was still curious. I saw it in a preview screening on July 28 and although it was exciting to see it all put together, when I saw the end credits I heard a voice in my head saying, “animation is the comprehensive accumulation of the cooperation of many people.” I remembered hearing that from someone with a serious face, and it echoed strange and distant in my head. For some reason, it gave me a very lonely feeling.
Anyway, it was the fatigue of the staff. Do not be troubled by the after-effects of Yamato. Good night.
Mecha Design This and That
My first encounter with Yamato was one day about six years ago. One night I casually switched my TV on and some animation was flowing; on my screen, a spaceship from Iscandar crashed on Mars. By coincidence, it was the first TV episode of Space Battleship Yamato.
Soon, the TV series was re-edited into a theatrical movie. I went to Ikebukuro in the rain and had to push through a tremendously long human chain. After a great deal of effort, I was able to see the movie at last. I remember having a vague idea that I wanted to get involved with the production of animation like this. It became a reality in Yamato 2 (TV series) and the telefeature The New Voyage, and now I’ve come to do designs again for Be Forever Yamato.
In late 1979, I met Mr. Matsumoto and talked with him several times before starting the job. I received a copy of his story draft and started working little by little. Yamato was going to be remodeled, so I applied myself to that and was able to advance from the general view to the first, second, and third bridges.
Because the first bridge is a highlight in Yamato, I thought I would draw it a little larger. I started with the front panels and then felt it was necessary to also draw the rear portions. During the course of drawing it all, it became large enough to fill the entire floor in my studio. Unfortunately, the original has gone somewhere, so I took a copy of a copy. There are several places where the picture is divided up, so Mr. Tsurumi in the production staff had to piece together many drawings like a jigsaw puzzle. With all the trouble he went through during this time, Mr. Tsurumi seems to have lost some weight.
The second bridge didn’t increase in size much, but the third bridge went through a big scale-up. The upper and lower halves are almost symmetrical.
The large computer room is a new set, the brain of Yamato. To present the image of a huge computer, I filled it up with meters and similar things.
I wanted to elaborate on the control room and the striker of the Wave-Motion Gun. The door looks like the time-lock on a big bank safe. The striker turns once and the four safeties come off simultaneously. I realized the movement would become very complex if I thought about it, so I reluctanctly gave up and left it alone.
The Wave-Motion Engine is aligned with the Wave-Motion Gun. This is a unique alien design inside Yamato, but now Earth people completely understand the Wave Engine mechanism and have remodeled it. I did a scale-up and added Earthlike design to it.
When it comes to the Wave-Motion Cartridge, it is a real class of gun and I used part of a cartridge instead. It became the type of model that comes out of a casing with great force.
Because I started working from Mr. Matsumoto’s story draft before the script was written, some things were not used at all and others were changed. There was an unmanned surveillance craft (above right), an automated cargo ship (below left), a depth charge launcher (below right), an unmanned transport ship, etc.
The Earth High-Speed Communication Boat [the escape ship used by Yamato‘s crew] started as an unmanned transport ship (below left) but its heavy feeling was not suitable, so it changed. The depth charge launcher changed to the torpedo launcher.
I draw all my designs in pencil, but I drew the interior of the EDF command center much too large, so it filled 8 sheets of B4 paper. I painted out some of the meters with black, and it became the project that required the most perserverence. There was a meeting at Academy [Studio] when Takeshi Shirato looked at it and said, “you drew this with a pencil?” I couldn’t tell if he was amazed or surprised. It was one of the things that made it into the finished film.
The whole job took about four months. It was over before we knew it, and I was sorry it didn’t use more of the mecha from The New Voyage. Still, due to the limits of my ability, there were a number of designs that couldn’t be done. The vague idea I had six years ago has become a reality. As I continue with new works from now on, I want to remember that even more than on previous works.
Various Notes about Yamato Production Progress
We had a conference meeting on February 28 after the first part of the script was completed on the 21st. There were some places, during a battle scene for example, when there was just one line that said “battle,” so we had to think about the strategy for that battle and figure out how it unfolds. Battle strategies were worked out in accordance with the script and handed over to the storyboard artist, so that’s why the script, strategy, and storyboarding were done in a parallel fashion.
An animation meeting was scheduled for March 1, but by the 10th there were only 100 storyboards ready in the A part [of the script]. The entire storyboard was supposed to be finished by the second week of May, but it took the entire month of May because of the ending part.
The storyboard was drawn by Masaharu Endou and Takeshi Shirato. Both Mr. Nishizaki and Mr. Matsumoto checked them for direction and then presented them to the main staff in art meetings. Therefore, if we are stuck here, the date to begin animation will be delayed. The animators won’t be able to do their job and it’s very possible that they will have to move to other projects.
The most important part of turning a script into storyboards is to depict the battle strategy properly. Various designs (mecha and character) have to be done, and it was important to finish them early in a parallel fashion to help increase the storyboard speed. Additionally, art boards [pre-viz paintings] are done to make sure the designs are suitable.
The meeting place to review artwork differed according to content. They centered around either Mr. Nishizaki at Academy Studio or Mr. Katsumata at Toei Animation.
120 scenes were done by April 15, 320 scenes by May 1, and 1000 scenes by the last day. Staff meetings ended around this time, and individual scenes were all approved. 10 minutes of key animation had to finish in 45 days including our retake reserve.
The animation had to be completed by July 4 because the assembly [picture editing] had to be done by the 18th. At the stage of voice recording on July 13-15, 65% of the picture was completed. We had only a few days to finish the remaining 35%, so it was serious.
Layout was also serious, because this time some of it was in Cinescope size.
The original plan was for the movie to run two hours and 20-30 minutes. The script timed out to three and a half hours. The storyboard totaled two hours plus a five-minute ending. By the time we started animation, it was three hours long, so we had to cut scenes from the storyboard stage. Further editing got it down to 2000 scenes.
We had to check 40-50 scenes a day, which was a serious job, so I asked Mr. Takashi Nakamura to assist us. He reviewed animation to make sure it fit the intentions of Mr. Udagawa. After this, it was seen by Mr. Udagawa and Mr. Koizumi. The result of this checking is to speed up the later animation work and eliminate problems at the same time.
The Academy production staff had to help complete 10,000 cels and finish & paint 17,000 as well as doing half the photography.
I made a budget and schedule for 40,000 animation cels, but the expectation grew to 50,000 in the end, so it was a problem in the second half to accommodate the additional 10,000 cels and get them all photographed. Even after this, it increased by another 3,000 cels.
The final running time had to be figured out by July 17th by roughly editing the scenes into numerical order. I tried to reduce as many scenes as possible. It took 11 to 12 days to reduce it by 1,000 cels.
Camera work was supposed to be completed on July 26, but it took until noon on the 27th. We took it immediately to Toei Chemistry, and development was possible by 3pm. I replaced the rush film with this one on the spot and started preview #0. The first full preview took place on July 29, and our work was over.
Continue to the next part of the story: the Be Forever Yamato Time Machine