By Tim Eldred with August Ragone
There was a time not very long ago when being a Star Blazers/Yamato fan meant always looking back at past glory, a history of breakthroughs and milestones growing increasingly distant. But in recent years the future has beckoned as well, pulling our attention over the horizon toward new things. Fond memories are revitalized by the now-familiar feeling of excited anticipation. There was never a bad time to be a fan, but this is a particularly good one.
As recounted in our article Secrets of the Legacy Years, even when Yamato wasn’t in production, it was never far from the mind of Executive Producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki. One by one, he dreamed up revival schemes. And one by one, they incrementally overcame the obstacles laid in their path. Over twenty years ago, he was talking about a story called Yamato Resurrection. He entertained something he called “Yamato Live,” a feature film with flesh and blood actors, perhaps set on a real-life battleship. And there was a third project with the self-explanatory name “Yamato Remake.”
First announcement for the series in the November 10 Nikkan [Daily] Sports newspaper
His editorials in the fan club magazines of the late 1980s were full of such promises. And despite all of Nishizaki’s professional and personal setbacks of the intervening two decades, he eventually delivered. Despite the even harsher setback of his untimely death in November 2010, he’s still delivering. “Yamato Remake” is at last taking shape just over our horizon, and it’s time for us to get back into news-hound mode.
For me (Tim Eldred), the story actually broke during Yamatour 2010, when I was speeding around Tokyo to conduct interviews and gather up everything I could on the live-action movie. Two separate conversations confirmed that a new Yamato series was in an advanced stage of pre-production. Designs were in place, scripts were written, and the inner circle of Yamato Party–the most dedicated fans in Japan–had gone inside Enagio Studio to confirm it for themselves.
Those conversations revealed two more surprises. First, we had already gotten the inaugural spinoff product without even realizing it. Second, I had already seen a substantial amount of design work without knowing what it was. Both of those surprises will be explained further down the page.
Direct from Earth Defense Headquarters
Jump forward to July 2011: designer/director Makoto Kobayashi formally announces the coming of a new series. Jump forward again to November: Japanese media makes it official. To get everyone caught up, August Ragone brings the thunder via his blog, The Good, the Bad, and Godzilla:
After the last two years of major revivals, there comes news of another Yamato production to debut this coming April: Space Battleship Yamato 2199! Shoji Nishizaki, adopted son of the late Yoshinobu Nishizaki, mentioned in the wake of the his father’s untimely death last November that their company, Enagio, would press on with new Yamato productions, including an animated series. This past July, production designer Makoto Kobayashi announced at Anime Expo in Los Angeles that a series was indeed in pre-production, and that it was to be a remake of the original.
After months of silence, a formal announcement was made to the Japanese Media on November 10 that Yamato would be returning in the form of a theatrical release scheduled for April 7, 2012 (67 years to the day that the original IJN Battleship Yamato was sunk off of the coast of Okinawa). On November 11, the first teaser trailer was released on the Yamato Crew website, and the official site for 2199 also went live.
Immediately, there was a flurry of chatter and speculation in fan communities on both sides of the Pacific, including disappointment that the promised television series had seemingly been dumped in favor of a feature film. But more news was slyly revealed in the Members Only section of Yamato Crew.
First, it was stated that Yamato 2199 would only screen in ten cinemas nationwide, and that the total running time will be a mere 50 minutes in length (approximate). Why would they bother making such a short feature? Because, as it turns out, this theatrical movie is actually a compilation of the first and second episodes of an all-new television series! That’s right– Yamato 2199 is going to be a full-on television remake of the 1974 original!
The supervising director of the new series is the celebrated character designer and animation director Yutaka Izubuchi. He was a member of the celebrated Studio Nue and first cut his teeth as an Enemy Robot Designer on Toei’s Fighting General Daimos and Future Robo Dartanius in 1979. During that same period, he was also affiliated with Aritsune Toyota’s Creative Group, Parallel Creation (Toyota being one of the founding fathers of Yamato). For Yamato III (1980), Izubuchi designed mecha including Space Battleship Arizona and he also contributed to the mechanical designs of the Denguil Empire for Final Yamato (1983).
A diehard fan of Anime and Tokusatsu, Izubuchi was tapped by Toei Producer Takeyuki Suzuki to design the villains for three consecutive Super Sentai Series after he complained about the lackluster monster designs in Greatest Task Force Goggle V (1982), starting with Science Task Force Dynaman (1983). Izubuchi quickly racked up his credits with scores of memorable anime mecha designs for Sunrise’s Combat Mecha Xabungle (1982), Aura Battler Dunbine (1983), Panzer World Galient (1984), and Macross: Do You Remember Love (1984). He went on to create mecha for numerous installments of the Patlabor and Gundam franchises, and was the creator and director of RahXephon (2002).
Character Designs for Yamato 2199 were created by veteran Nobuteru Yuki. Perhaps best known to Old Schoolers for his work on Megazone 23 (1985), Yuki started his professional career as an animator on Super Dimension Century Orguss (1983). He built upon his portfolio as a manga artist and illustrator during the 1980s, on such television series as Heavy Metal L-Gaim (1984) and Dirty Pair (1985), and feature films such as Macross: Do You Remember Love (1984) and The Wings of Honneamise (1987). In addition to his prolific Anime creditials, Yuki has also illustrated for numerous publications as well as being a noted cover artist for fantasy and science fiction novels. He has also served as a designer for such video games as Chrono Cross and Solatorobo: Red the Hunter. He worked closely with Leiji Matsumoto to redesign his classic characters for Captain Harlock and Galaxy Express 999 revival projects, and is best known to younger anime fans as the character designer for The Vision of Escaflowne (1996) and Maken-Ki! (2011).
The animation for Yamato 2199 is being produced by Xebec Inc. and AIC. As a subsidiary of Production I.G. (whose many credits include the animated segment of Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Blood: The Last Vampire), Xebec’s purpose is to handle production of TV Anime, and their long list of titles include Martian Successor Nadesico (1996) and Heroic Age (2007). In 2011 alone, Xebec produced three Anime series, Break Blade, Rio: Rainbow Gate, and Softenni. AIC (Anime International Company) was founded in 1982, and has worked on dozens of productions, including major benchmark titles in the 1980s such as Megazone 23, Iczer-1, and Bubblegum Crisis. Still going strong in 2011, AIC produced the series R-15, Wandering Son, Persona 4, and I Don’t Have Many Friends.
As of this writing, Yamato Crew offers no further information on the other principals involved in the production, including screenwriters, voice actors, or music composers. Interestingly, the teaser trailer features music by the late Hiroshi Miyagawa, the famed composer whose scores are synonymous with Yamato. Is it possible that cues from the original score, or new arrangements of those scores, could be incorporated? Perhaps under the baton of Miyagawa’s son, Akira, who has followed in his father’s footsteps? As for the voice actors, can we hope for some of the originals to return to their much-beloved roles? Some did so for Yamato Resurrection. I mean, we can’t have a voice actor for Dessler other than Masato Ibu, can we?
(Posted Friday, November 11, 2011.)
Despite the current lack of additional credits at the website, two more participants in the series are known.
The first is the aforementioned designer/director Makoto Kobayashi, who created mecha for Yamato Resurrection and has been actively involved in 2199’s pre-production for the last year. His personal blog has made numerous references to working with Izubuchi and helping to develop CG environments such as Planet Balan and various interior sets.
Another name that is less well-known than it should be is designer Junichiro Tamamori. For years, he has been causing jaws to drop the world over with his unique, imaginative Yamato fan art under the studio name Yamato Mechanics. And this brings us to those two surprises I mentioned earlier.
The first is a revelation about the 1/500 Yamato model released by Bandai in December 2010. Even before it arrived, independent observers noticed many design changes in the kit that differentiated it from the classic anime version. Predictably, this lead to some grumbling in fan circles. What they didn’t know was that this wasn’t the classic version at all–it was in fact the new Yamato that would appear in the forthcoming series.
So there you go. We’ve already got merchandising. And talk about the redesigned Yamato brings me to surprise number two.
Throughout the year 2010, I spent a fair amount of time and money collecting model sheets from Yamato Resurrection via online auctions in Japan. Over time, I managed to put together a substantial collection. Whenever a new set arrived in the mail, it included extra sheets I couldn’t identify. They didn’t match anything in the movie, yet they were of recent vintage. I assumed they were either rejected designs or they belonged to some game project or other.
Not so. When I finally heard last December what was coming, it all clicked into place. Pre-production designs from Yamato 2199 had literally fallen into my hands. As you can imagine, the temptation to share them here at starblazers.com was overwhelming. But out of respect for Enagio Studio’s efforts, I kept them to myself. Now that the official announcement has been made, I can open the vault at last.
These designs fit into several categories, so for Report #1 we’ll start with Yamato itself. If you look sharp, you’ll see the name “Tama” on a few pieces. This is short for Tamamori, the very designer I spoke of a few paragraphs ago.
We Have Visual Contact
Immediately after the official press announcement, the first public images burst over the internet like a shot across the bow. On November 12 in Japan (which was still November 11 in the U.S.) a 50-second trailer appeared on the Yamato Crew website and the all-new official site, which features a daily countdown clock to April 7 (stills shown above, links available below). There was also a flyer in movie theaters (shown at the top of this page) with this message on the back from Director Yutaka Izubuchi:
This work is great. The reason I am here now is because I was drawn into this world by the previous work of 37 years ago.
Therefore, it was unavoidable.
Therefore, it must be told.
Therefore, it must be accomplished.
With thought, gratitude, and respect to those who encountered this warship in their youth as I did, and to the youth of today who are building the future and do not yet know this warship, Space Battleship Yamato is timeless, and is newly born here as Space Battleship Yamato 2199. But it is only the first step.
– General Director Yutaka Izubuchi
There was a patter of news over the next few days as Bandai Visual announced its participation, continuing its role as Yamato‘s video distributor since 1989. This is a relationship that will set 2199 apart from the live-action film, which was woefully under-merchandised compared to previous works.
The first seed of that relationship sprouted on the evening of November 18, when an episode of Anime Beat was streamed online via the Bandai Namco Live TV website. During this 50-minute live talkshow, the hosts spoke for about half an hour with Yutaka Izubuchi and a luminary of anime fandom named Ryusuke Hikawa.
Whether or not you know his name, he has had an impact on your life. During his youth he went by a different name, Tatsuya Nakatani. He was the first to establish a Yamato fan club in 1975, and thus quite literally founded anime fandom as we know it today. (Read the full story here.) In the years since, his passion for the medium has only increased. He has served as an ambassador to the world of Yamato many times, and is now a publicist for 2199.
The talkshow format was a familiar one for Hikawa, as he and Izubuchi started with a discussion of how innovative the original series was. As one of the hosts flipped through stills, they soon became engrossed in trivia. Some highlights:
The reason for both the change of Gamilas skin color and the disappearance of all female characters besides Yuki was the same: Producer Nishizaki insisted on it while the show was in progress.
How the Rainbow Star Cluster was named: series director Noboru Ishiguro once told the staff about seeing a pair of rainbow (seven-color) panties. They liked it and the name was adopted into the cluster.
According to Hikawa, there were many adult-oriented factors in the first Yamato that inspired him. He worked for publisher Tokuma Shoten on anime publications at the time Izubichi was first assigned to Yamato III. It reminded Izubuchi that he was once excited to receive copies of the ultra-rare Yamato manga by Yuki Hijiri directly from Tokuma.
In the concluding segment of the show, Izubuchi confirmed that he was directing the new remake. In fact it had been in pre-production for many years (some may remember a tentative announcement way back in 2006), and he thought that if it actually got underway, director Hideaki [Evangelion] Anno would probably take it. But out of the blue, it came to Izubuchi instead. He said that when he first got the offer, he wished he had a time machine to tell his younger self, who was gripped by Yamato fever back in 1974.
He also dropped the fascinating hint that the characters and vessels in 2199 would not come solely from the original Yamato series, but also latter parts of the saga. In other words, the larger picture will be retroactively embraced; officers such as Hijikata or Yamanami could have roles to play, or perhaps other alien races might make their presence known.
Izubuchi concluded by explaining that longtime fans may complain about differences from the original but he has done his best for both the old and new generations and believes Yamato 2199 will serve them equally.
As Yamato‘s longest and most ardent supporter, Ryusuke Hikawa gets the last word in our first report. This message was featured on the Yamato Crew website and has already made the rounds in Japanese media:
The first work of Space Battleship Yamato revives as a completely new anime! It inherits the excitement of the historic masterpiece that gathered the best creators and broke all boundaries. Now it evolves into a new work for the world of the 21st century.
To save Earth, which is on the edge of ruin after the invasion of Gamilas, Space Battleship Yamato embarks on a seemingly endless voyage, making warp after warp to reach Iscandar far outside the galaxy. It is a courageous journey to change despair into hope.
In 1974 there was an air of gloom over the end of the economic boom. Yamato was considered a “TV manga,” but it completely revolutionized children’s anime. At a time of uncertainty, the strong faith and will of Yamato opened up the future. Going beyond a mere remake, the story is carefully rebuilt with the latest visuals, so let’s witness a moment of passionate succession by all means!
Special thanks to Sword Takeda