Vintage Report 1: 1973-74

As Yamato Resurrection approached in 2009, this website took on a new dimension when the Yamato saga returned to real time and there was news to report every month. The “remake era” boosted that into high gear, turning those reports into the heartbeat of Cosmo DNA.

As the format solidified, it became tempting to wonder what regular reports might have looked like during the original production years. This “vintage” series will deliver exactly that, bringing an enormous amount of historical content to life in a whole new way. This first Vintage Report begins somewhere you may not expect, BEFORE the beginning…


Far left: 1940 edition. Far right: 2013 edition

Prelude, 1935: New Battleship Takachiho

The concept of reviving famous battleships not only predates Space Battleship Yamato, it predates just about everyone who created it. The earliest known example in Japanese fiction was this novel by Shinsaku Hirata that revived a 19th century vessel.

Summary: In 193X, the Arctic expedition ship Hokuto Maru and the new battleship Takachiho set sail for the Arctic to discover and develop the “Arctic Secret Border” where a large amount of resources is hidden. However, at the same time, Country A (modeled on the United States of America ) and Country B (modeled on the Soviet Union) also dispatch an expeditionary fleet to make the secret area their territory. This is where the battle for secret borders begins. (Source: Japanese Wikipedia page)

Evidently, the novel was so popular with young boys it became a recruitment too for the Japanese Imperial Navy. Yamato creator Yoshinobu Nishizaki was born only the year before it was published, and as a consumer of boy’s adventure novels, he almost certainly would have read this one, perhaps even inspired by it. The following passage from a 1977 interview speaks to this directly:

“In our childhood there were adventure novels on a magnificent scale. Children today don’t have such novels. They are influenced by TV now, and many of them don’t accept a story that is not illustrated. I assume that they now feel from Yamato something similar to what my generation did from those novels, such as dreams, passion, adventure, first love and excitement.”

Prelude, 1961-1963: New Battleship Yamato

This was the next known iteration of the concept, conceived by the prolific author Ikki Kajiwara, then just 25 years old. It first appeared in July 1961 as a serialized novel in the adventure magazine Hinomaru, illustrated by Ikuya Yoshida, then again two years later as a manga in Shonen Gaho (Boys Pictorial) drawn by Tetsuya Dan.

In this story, Captain Okita (yes, that was his name) commands a Yamato that can fly and submerge. With his two sons, he fights the evil mad scientist, Dr. Killer. Kajiwara fully acknowledged that he was inspired by Takachiho, but regarded the anime Yamato as an imitation of his concept. Regardless, no protest was lodged against Yoshinobu Nishizaki or Leiji Matsumoto.

But it’s a virtual certainty that Leiji Matsumoto knew all about it, since he had a manga (titled Planet R) in Hinomaru magazine the same year as New Battleship Yamato. And anyway, one glance makes it obvious that it had an influence on what was to come 13 years later.

Read much more about New Battleship Yamato here

Prelude, 1961: Lightning Ozma

This flying Yamato looked nothing like a World War II battleship, but its creator had quite a destiny to fulfill. It was none other than Leiji Matsumoto, and he applied the name to a rocket ship in his SF adventure series Lightning Ozma, first published in Bokura (Our) Magazine.

Prelude, 1967: Blue Submarine No. 6

The Battleship Yamato was revived again in this manga series, this time as a submarine called the Yamato Wonder. Originally published in Shonen Sunday (and animated in 2000), the story was created by Satoru Ozawa. Put a pin in that name, because it’s going to come up again.

1973: Academy Co., Ltd. is established

After many years in the music and stage industries, Yoshinobu Nishizaki found his way into anime (back when it was still called “TV Manga”) as a business agent for Osamu Tezuka’s Mushi Productions. Various twists and turn led to him producing two series: Little Wansa (1971) and Triton of the Sea (1972). Read about his early days in anime production here.

Ultimately, he formed his own company as a vehicle to do what he wanted most: create his own series based on an image that he says was in his head as a boy:

“The idea of a huge battleship flying in the sky is not the property of one person. Perhaps everyone had it when they were young. But only in a few cases could that image be made into a real picture. I kept that idea concealed in my heart…even as I grew to an adult, I carefully nurtured it. The idea of visualizing it as something real was also a dream I had fostered since my childhood.”

Read a 1977 Nishizaki essay about Yamato‘s genesis here.

Summer 1973: Development begins

Two veteran animation writers who had previously worked with Nishizaki both came up with different versions of the “flying battleship” story. Keisuke Fujikawa’s draft was titled Space Battleship Cosmo and Aritsune Toyota’s draft was Asteroid Ship Icarus (also known as Asteroid 6). They began from the concept of a doomsday clock for the human race and a ship being built to save everyone. Cosmo‘s mission was to find a new planet, whereas Icarus was bound for Iscandar.

Read about the entire development history here

Read the Space Battleship Cosmo proposal here

Read the Asteroid Ship Icarus proposal here

By late summer, Writer/Director/Artist Eiichi Yamamoto came on board to move the concept forward. He consulted with Designer Kazutaka Miyatake, who looked at the Asteroid Ship designs and started a conversation that ultimately led to the title Space Battleship Yamato. He filled in this missing link of Yamato history at a 2013 Yamatalk event; read all about it here (highly recommended).

With the new title in place, Eiichi Yamamoto wrote a fresh draft and assembled a 45-page plan book to present the concept to TV networks.

Read the entire plan book here


Work-in-progress art for Ginga, Ginga, Ginga by Satoru Ozawa

Early 1974

The next step for Yoshinobu Nishizaki was to find someone capable of unifying all the elements presented in the plan book into a single visual style. Designer Kazutaka Miyatake was still in the loop at this point, and his first recommendation was Satoru Ozawa, whose submarine manga had strongly influenced him as a youngster.

Nishizaki made contact at a critical moment; Ozawa was developing a new manga titled Ginga, Ginga, Ginga that would feature yet another iteration of Yamato, this time as a spaceship that would go on an intergalactic voyage. Shocked by the similarity of their parallel ideas, Nishizaki asked Ozawa to come on board, but he wasn’t interested. Instead, he made one of the most consequential statements in anime history:

“How about Leiji Matsumoto? He draws boats too, you know.”

(This revelation was also shared in the 2013 Yamatalk. You really should read it.)

April/May: Leiji Matsumoto takes the wheel

Before approaching Matsumoto, Nishizaki looked up his work and knew right away that he was on to something. He summed it up thusly in a 1977 essay:

“What singled him out for me was Sexaroid. In that story, the mecha was portrayed very well in combination with humans. Usually in SF, stories of man and machine tend to end in revolt, but Matsumoto found a beautiful match between oil and water. With Sexaroid I became his fan completely, and the feminine image he drew in it became my ideal. In that way, Sexaroid entered the world of Yamato and helped to complete my thoughts about it.”

When Matsumoto agreed to join the production, everything changed. As a writer/artist/designer, he brought a comprehensive mindset to the table that allowed him to not only absorb and filter all the ideas of the writing team, but also transform them into what became the foundation of the anime series, complete with words and pictures. He also “donated” one of his own personal creations to the story, a space pirate named Captain Harlock.

He completed his work on May 21 and paved the way to begin negotiations with the Yomiuri network. Everyone (including us) was soon going to get much more than they bargained for.

Read the entire Matsumoto story treatment here

Read a collection of story notes here

See his 51-episode outline here

June: Preproduction begins

A key milestone was passed when Yomiuri agreed to broadcast the series starting in October, but on the condition that it be scaled down from 51 episodes to 39. Several ideas were cut and others were revised to meet this requirement. The writing team produced a new outline composed of eight story arcs and then got to work defining the key points of each individual episode.

See the 39-episode outline here.

As this vital work was being done, the visual side of the production started on a 10-minute pilot film. It served many purposes, most importantly to build the infrastructure that would be needed for the series itself. It was the first anime produced at Academy Studio, and the artists who worked on it would become the core team for the series.

One unfortunate exception was Chief Director Nobuhiro Okaseko, who was sidelined by medical issues after the pilot film was finished. Animation Director Noboru Ishiguro was promoted to replace him just as things got serious.

Read a 2014 essay by Okaseko here

In addition to providing the studio with a trial run, the pilot film was also meant to be shared with prospective licensors of the series. It was accompanied by a full-color 16-page publicity book that revealed early design work for the first time. Many of the designs were still evolving, but not fast enough to keep up with licensing demands. This is why the first round of merchandising didn’t match what was seen on TV; in some cases, the publicity book was the only style guide they had to follow.

Read about the making of the pilot film and see the complete publicity book here

August: Production begins

Production of the first TV episode began immediately after the pilot film was completed. Voice actor auditions took place in late August and early September (read a few notes about that process here).

Meanwhile, Hiroshi Miyagawa composed music that would go on to create a legacy all its own. He wrote a total of 79 tracks (from the opening theme to the short stingers known as “bridges”) and worked with Sound Supervisor Atsushi Tashiro to arrange them for recording. A small combo of musicians joined Miyagawa to record the entire catalog at lightning speed on September 19 and 20. Over 35 years later, Akira Miyagawa would have to reconstruct the entire Series 1 catalog by ear for Yamato 2199, since no original documentation survived.

Read much more about Yamato music history here, including some memories of recording the opening theme.

As the entire production crew careened forward to ready the first episode for its October 6 premiere, many other things were underway.

September 1: Terebi Land magazine (October issue)

The first Yamato press of any kind appeared here, a brief color spread with early art (including Captain Harlock) that announced the coming of a new series to be broadcast Sunday nights on the Yomiuri network. In time, the magazine and its publisher Tokuma Shoten would become a significant hub for Yamato publishing. It all began with their next issue.

September 3: Bouken Oh (October issue)

The next promo appeared two days later in Bouken Oh (Adventure King), a monthly manga anthology published by Akita Shoten. In the very front and very back of the issue could be found two Yamato images. The first promoted the anime (above right)…

…and the second promoted Leiji Matsumoto’s manga adaptation, which would debut in the November issue.


Cover bullet

October 1: Terebi Land (November issue)

With the TV series just five days away, Terebi Land launched the first of three parallel manga adaptations. This version was written and drawn by Yuki Hijiri, best known as the creator of Locke The Superman. He was given a handful of anime designs to work from, but had to use a model kit of the Battleship Yamato for the title vessel. He was given scripts, but wasn’t expected to do a direct adaptation. It seems unthinkable today for Hijiri to have gone completely unsupervised, but the days of rigid branding control were still far in the future.

Read all six chapters of the Hijiri manga here

Read an interview about the project with Hijiri here

Like Bouken Oh, Terebi Land gave readers some extra content seen nowhere else. In this case, a full-color foldout featuring a gorgeous cutaway painting by Hitoshi Ikematsu. Click here to see a textless version of this amazing piece

This black and white version with callouts could be found elsewhere in the same issue. Terebi Land would continue to commission its own original art, as seen farther down the page.

October 3: Bouken Oh (November issue)

Leiji Matsumoto must have set or broken several records when he commenced work on the Yamato anime and manga simultaneously, and he’s spoken many times over the years about how punishing it was. Essentially, he’d work at Academy Studio all day and go home to draw manga pages at night.

The first chapter debuted in this issue of Bouken Oh, kicking off a 6-part adaptation that has been in print ever since. It ran for 32 pages and adapted all of Episode 1, which gave vigilant readers a three-day jump on the TV series. It was followed by a “Gamilas” page with art credited to “Hiromi Productions.”

Read all about the Matsumoto manga here

That wasn’t the only Yamato content in the issue; in addition to the color spread at the front of the magazine, this four-page B&W introduction to the show was also provided.

It was the first public unveiling of this art, side by side technical drawings of both Yamatos. It had been commissioned for the publicity book and would appear in countless places for years to come.

October 6: Episode 1

7:30 PM, Sunday evening, Yomiuri Network

SOS Earth! Revive Battleship Yamato!
In the year 2199, Earth hovers on the edge of extinction. Gamilas, a race from outside the Milky Way, has bombed Earth and covered it with deadly radiation. But a message from space brings hope for the future.

Read our commentary here

Beyond the trivia that can be found in the Cosmo DNA commentaries, the main thing everyone involved in the production remembers most is how grueling it was. From the emergency promotion of Noboru Ishiguro to the overwhelming animation demands, everything cascaded into the worst possible situation; episodes were often finished only the day before broadcast. Once you get into that cycle, it’s virtually impossible to gain back any lead time, which made it even more miraculous for the series to end up looking as good as it did.

The most informative comments about the day-to-day work came from Noboru Ishiguro and can be read here: 1975 interview (doujinshi), 1977 interview (OUT magazine), 1980 essay (book excerpt)

October 13: Episode 2

The opening gun! Space Battleship Yamato starts!
A secret plan has come to fruition: the ancient Battleship Yamato has been rebuilt into the Space Battleship Yamato, the most powerful vessel Earth has ever launched. A Gamilas attack puts the ship and its rookie crew through their first crucial test.

The World War II flashback at the end of this episode caused the first major battle of wills between Producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki and Director Leiji Matsumoto. Matsumoto strongly objected to the use of an Imperial Navy march in the soundtrack (which he saw as an endorsement of the politics of the time), and insisted that he would quit the show if it was left in. After taking a vote from the rest of the production crew, Nishizaki relented. It had already gone out for broadcast in one region, but there was just enough time to replace it with Miyagawa score for the others. It was heard again only in the 1977 compilation film.

Read our commentary here

October 20: Episode 3

Yamato take off! The challenge of 296,000 light years!
People are called from around the world to board Yamato and make the journey to another galaxy. They must reach planet Iscandar in one year or Earth is doomed, and an incoming Gamilas missile is ready to end the voyage before it even begins!

Read our commentary here

October 27: Episode 4

World of wonder! Yamato leaps past light!
Yamato has left Earth in its desperate mission to retrieve the Cosmo DNA machine from Planet Iscandar, which will remove the radiation that threatens humanity. But first the crew must survive a deadly space warp!

Read our commentary here

October 27: Shonen Sunday magazine

This was the first known article to be published in a weekly magazine after the debut of the series. Shonen Sunday was a long-hauler from publishing giant Shogakukan; it went all the way back to 1959 and served as a platform for some of Japan’s most popular manga creators.

Unlike Terebi Land and Bouken Oh, this one didn’t have a Yamato manga, but its coverage was similar, derived from early images provided by Academy studio.

October 31: OP/ED & Drama single (Asahi Sonorama)

The first music release was pressed on a flexible phonosheet (rebranded as a “Sonosheet” by Sonorama) with the OP/ED on one side and a “drama” track on the other, a condensed retelling of Episode 1 with dialogue and sound effects. As you will see below, Sonorama was the most active Yamato licensor in these early days. Read more about them here.

It was also an early source for pictures, since it came with a four-panel double-sided foldout. (Click here to view both sides.)

October 31: Space Battleship Yamato Sonosheet Book

On the same day Asahi Sonoroma released their single, this 16-page children’s book went on sale, the first dedicated Yamato book of any kind. It hit some high points of the first few TV episodes, and fans who picked it up would have gotten a minor sneak peek at what was to come. As the title indicates, it also came with a sonosheet of the opening title song. But, like other early storytelling efforts, the content of the book drifted a bit from the story on TV.

See it cover to cover with translations here

Two more “sonosheet” products released by Asahi Sonorama right around this time (the specific dates are unknown) were EPs that put the opening theme on the same disc as other contemporaries. This “Sonorama Golden Puppy Series” edition combined Yamato and Great Mazinger with two live action shows: Kamen Rider Amazon and Monkey Army.

Hit Song Big 8 added four more titles to that same mix: Ultraman Leo, Getta Robo, Hurricane Polymer, and Mach Baron. Cross-pollenation such as this was common practice at the time, and was not limited to Sonorama products as we’ll see on the next page.


This report goes to the end of 1974; click here to continue

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