Yamato History Changes
By Keisuke Fujikawa
A Character is the Most Important Point
It is obvious that the Space Battleship Yamato series is animation. It is not a so-called live action work. Although that is easily understood, it’s actually a very important distinction.
I, who wrote scripts for live-action at one time, felt that the unreal world of animation was unsatisfying. Except for very few genres, it never satisfied me for some reason. I continued thinking that animation was not suitable for serious subjects. But by chance I happened to write for animation. Then I started thinking about how to adapt the reality of live-action into anime and wondered how close it could get.
The plan for Space Battleship Yamato was born around that time. Although its composition was very difficult, considering the conventional structure at the time, I did not forget that it was to be animation. Many adventures were set up that would have been inconceivable in live-action, and unknown worlds were imagined for the story. It was a way to capture the challenges of young people going into space.
In addition to the joy of adventure and the severity of the environment surrounding Yamato, there were also the entangled lives of human beings pushed to the limit. It wasn’t perfect, but it could be said that we put careful consideration into things that hadn’t been given much thought before then. In that way, I think we achieved a union between the unreality of animation and the reality of live-action, though it was an incomplete attempt.
It is said that a character is the most important point in a work of animation. It is good to give them as many intense up and down emotions as possible. In brief, this is because internal play is difficult to express with a picture. Though an actor can earn admiration by standing intently still in live-action, animation that does not move is the worst kind. In that sense, the hero Susumu Kodai is a man who is ideal for animation. He is often denigrated as a flawed man missing human essentials, but actually he was unstable and indecisive. I think that was part of his appeal.
There was a rival for his position, named Shima Daisuke. I think it was a natural situation for a young hero, and they made a good combination. Those two are projected as the image of youth, and there is a contrast figure that works as springboard against youth. It was Captain Okita, with his abundant life experience.
This is exactly the time when the authority of parent figures is challenged. It’s the time when some things are flatly rejected for being old-fashioned. It’s also the time when the figure of a man who knows life well and lives with faith finds appeal with much younger people. They feel he is more appealing than their sympathetic parents.
As the clash between young and old became harder and more furious, the more lively Sanada watched that clash. Dr. Sado is a figure who repaired harsh relationships with his tender heart. Furthermore, Yuki was there to symbolize the seed of young love. Kodai was always supported by her when charging forward.
And no one must forget that Space Battleship Yamato also featured Dessler the lord of evil, and his famous subordinate General Domel. There was a pattern in the evil characters that appeared in [other] works like this, and they were almost always one-dimensional. In other words, childlike people with no substance. Dessler and Domel were charismatic villains who went down in defeat. They had a unique philosophy of life and a sense of aesthetics. Their strength made them worthy enemies of Yamato, and it cannot be denied that they made the work more appealing. You might also say they were the first villains that fans were attracted to.
With such attractive characters in place, the story of Series 1 was assembled. However, though Space Battleship Yamato had the opportunity to create a “Yamato boom,” the tone and content were different from conventional fare, and because of this it lost the TV ratings battle.
But when it was edited into a feature film and shown in a theater, it triggered the so-called “Yamato boom.” To those without much familiarity with animation, it probably looked like something fresh. Farewell to Yamato was made as “Part 2.” This brought the Yamato boom to its full peak.
Animation is Not Live-Action
From this work, however, Yamato began to part with animation a little. Because many people from the live-action world entered the industry to join the staff, it inevitably shifted things away from animation thinking and began to more strongly push the reality of live-action.
The adventurous nature of the story evolved into a more realistic battle, and the drama of human beings pressed in with a feeling of considerable weight. It was successful, and I think it was a good thing.
However, as I observed earlier, Yamato is animation and not live-action. If it tries unreasonably to imitate live-action, people will become dissatisfied with it. At the same time, it would compromise the imaginative characteristics of animation. There would not be much cause to notice this if it were handled by a top-notch staff, but for me who was looking for more contact between animation and live-action, it began to feel as if Yamato was in a crisis.
My worries came out directly with The New Voyage, the TV special that played an important role as the bridge to Part 3. The thing I was most afraid of was exposed. Unfortunately, glitches in the work were revealed. They were made by people who do not know animation, and it was not much welcomed. It is a work that seems only to be a live-action animation.
The swelling of an important dream has been lost. Because it was the work that followed the huge hit of Part 2, it could be said that the expectations were too high. At that point, I strongly advised the producer to return to the spirit of Part 1.
Yamato is animation, and the real intention is to harness those characteristics. We were gradually losing the charm of characters, who are full of life even when confronted with failure. After a work has been around for a while, it is not unusual to grow tired of the characters.
So the staff argued that the character design was weak, or there was no sense of gravity or some such. However, there is no help for it because animation is not live-action, after all. It does not have the presence of live-action. It is only animation. But when that ‘only’ is forgotten, the argument becomes nonsense.
It was required that the people in Yamato were created as animation characters. For Part 3, Be Forever Yamato, which is about to be released, the main premise was to make fun animation. SF ideas are elaborated with ingenuity and a lot of new devices are seen. In doing it this way, I expect the deadlock that put the characters into a corner can be mitigated.
The third TV series will be broadcast this fall and will once again try to recapture the appeal of Part 1 without being bogged down in the third movie. I’d like to restore the thought that Yamato is animation. The Yamato series had this concern from the start of planning, and it continues to be my dream.
I was sometimes disappointed by the secret change in the quality of Yamato. It is solely because of my attachment to Yamato. As I write this selfish brief of Yamato‘s history, I’m afraid that I’m being impolite to the staff members who worked on it. But this was what I wanted to state at the moment of Be Forever, since this title is the production peak of Yamato in a sense.
Anyway, Yamato is an unprecedented hit in the history of anime, the work that captured the hearts of the young. It was quite a revolution, since more of the big anime titles from other companies followed it. I am proud to have been involved in this work. And even now, rather than fall back on it, I want to continue to explore the further potential of new animation.
In closing, I wish to apologize again for my abusive language.
Special thanks to Sword Takeda for translation assistance.