Vintage Report 3: 1976

Of all the original production years, 1976 was definitely the leanest. Total “above-the-surface” activity was less than what occurs during a typical month in the remake years. As “super robots” took over the anime landscape, Yamato fans probably despaired that their show was over forever. In fact, the most important action was happening under the surface, destined to change everything. But for now, let’s see what got Yamato fans through this year of dim prospects.

January 15: Yamato Land new year’s issue

The fan club named Cosmo Battleship Yamato Laboratory (CBYL) started the year in a dire state. Thanks to TV reruns, membership was constantly on the rise, but they were the wrong kind of members: fans who lived outside Tokyo, too far away to help with the physical workload it took to create, assemble, and distribute the various publications. It was too much for the core group to handle, and when it reached the breaking point…they broke.

In the final issue of their 4-page newsletter, they officially announced that they were discontinuing activity until further notice. Fortunately, there were a lot of other clubs to join by this time. And this particular group wouldn’t stay down for long; there was still a massive archive of materials in reserve, and it wasn’t about to go to waste.

January 22: New rerun begins

The series made its return to TV in September ’75 when reruns began in Sapporo and Hokkaido, giving new fans a chance to jump on board and find fan clubs to join. This time, the net was cast much wider when Yamato returned to Yomiuri, the network of its birth. As you’ll remember all too well, Yomiuri infamously slashed its commitment from 39 to 26 episodes when initial ratings came in low. It must have been extremely satisfying for Exec Producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki to get the show back on the air as proof of acceptance.

January/February: UBYF doujinshis

The doujinshis (fanzines) that launched in 1975 were still going, attracting fans and inspiring imitators. This was one of the latter. Magellan was published by a new fan group called UBYF (Universe Battleship Yamato Family), and they were quite modest.

The first (issue 1•2, January) had a very narrow focus indeed, examining the different cameras one could use to photograph stills from a TV set – something many fans fell back on when merchandising came up short. The second (issue 4•5, February 8) was more in line with doujinshis from other clubs: art, analysis, scrapbook clippings, and even homemade sheet music for the Yamato theme.

See both issues from cover to cover here.

February: CBYL becomes Yamato Association

The CBYL staff members who hadn’t burned out reformed in February under a new name, Yamato Association. The club’s membership was limited to a controllable number, and publishing started back up on a more manageable level. The newsletter Cosmonaut took the place of Astronaut, the Yamato Land newsletter resumed, and a new Mini Poster Book gave fans their first look at cels and background paintings at actual size. This activity would continue well into 1977 and culminate in their first professional publication. But we’ll get to that later.

March 31: Negal No. 9

This doujinshi was the final publication from Yamato Fan Club, the first private organization of its kind. It offered some more rarities from the design catalog and even an original Matsumoto drawing (upper left) that was never seen again. See the issue here.

After a break, the club was replaced by Yamato Fan Club II and Negal was replaced by Neo Negal. Both would make their debut in 1977.

April 1: Fantoche magazine Vol. 2

At last, a real magazine! Fantoche was the pet project of artist Yoshikazu Hirose, who had served as a color designer on the first Yamato TV series. Thanks to this connection, it was the first magazine to ever carry a Yamato cover story. It may also be considered the first anime specialty magazine, though its extensive coverage of foreign animation may be a disqualifier.

The cover story promoted a very early interview with Leiji Matsumoto when he was a humble newcomer to the world of anime and still carried a powerful torch for a beloved children’s story titled Maya the Bee. This may, in fact, have been the first published interview with Matsumoto after his work on Yamato, and would therefore have captured his freshest memories of the experience.

As a matter of historical trivia, this is the first publication in Yamato history to use the word “anime” in print, over a year before it would find its way into the public lexicon. This suggests that the word already existed as industry jargon, destined to become recognized around the world.

Read the interview here.

See a complete history of Fantoche magazine here.

May: Movie production

In the 1975 report, we saw the first steps being taken toward a compilation movie of the TV series. In the fall of 1975, word had leaked out to fan clubs that a movie was being planned. The odd thing was, it wasn’t being planned for Japan. By this time, Yoshinobu Nishizaki’s Office Academy had found work in handling the overseas sales of Japanese films, and since he now had a Yamato movie ready to go, he added it to his catalog. The running length had been trimmed to 1 hour, 38 minutes to make it more marketable. But another decision would prove far more important: it would be dubbed into English.

Already fluent in English himself, Nishizaki could bring the necessary resources together…and thus came the first-ever meeting of Yamato and Hollywood, USA. Producer Bernard Tabakin (whose next project would be a Chuck Norris film titled Breaker Breaker) hired fledgling director Gino Tanasescu to write the English script. The next step would take place five months later, so keep reading.

June: Yamato Land newsletter

1976 doujinshis from Yamato Association are few and far between, but this issue of the newsletter is proof enough that they were still carrying the torch, just for a smaller following. This particular edition was all text (news and views) with some promo for an “Animation Carnival” to take place on July 31.

July 31: EOS Vol. 3

Another doujinshi from another fan group; little is known about this one beyond some interior photos, which can be seen here. A reliable account of every fan group and their output is quite simply unattainable. But the more time goes on, the more of it rises to the surface again.

August 14 & 15: 15th Japan Science Fiction Convention, Tokon 6

There is almost no documentation of this event, but it must have been hugely memorable for those who attended. Tokon was a sci-fi convention in Tokyo, and Tokon 6 featured a slide presentation called “Yamato Hour” hosted by none other than the mecha designers from Studio Nue. It was one of the very few occasions they appeared in person to talk Yamato, and we can only imagine what a singular experience it was for the loyal fans who were still carrying a torch. Incidentally, the program book cover art (above left) was by Studio Nue’s own Naoyuki Katoh, who still produces Yamato art today.

August 26: Eternal Story of Jura

Akita Shoten, the publisher of Leiji Matsumoto’s Yamato manga in Bouken Oh, also put out a bi-weekly magazine called Playcomic, which was roughly the size of an American comic book. Seemingly out of the blue, the issue released on August 26 featured an all-new addition to the Yamato manga.

Eternal Story of Jura was an original chapter written and drawn by Matsumoto featuring the previously-unseen “secret” wife and daughter of Dessler. The story ran 35 pages and would be included in various reprints over subsequent years, including the American edition published by Seven Seas in 2019. The character of Jura ultimately inspired the Jirellians seen in Yamato 2199, who used the same means of psychic attack on the ship’s crew.

Find more details (and read the manga itself) here.

September: Isao Sasaki Sings Terebi Theme Songs

Nippon Columbia, CW-7079

Few LPs released in 1976 included a Yamato song, but this was an important one. Isao Sasaki was already famous as an actor/singer when he started recording themes for anime and tokusatsu shows in 1974, expanding his popularity with a new and younger fan base. His themes had been released as singles and included in compilation albums for two years, but this was the first dedicated collection.

You might expect the Yamato theme to be front and center on such an important release, but instead it featured The Scarlet Scarf. Either way, it was only the first of many, many albums to follow.

October: Movie production

A group of nine American actors assembled at a recording studio in Hollywood to record their parts for the compilation movie, which was now officially titled Space Cruiser Yamato. The ensemble was led by veteran character actor Marvin Miller, who had established his sci-fi street cred as the voice of Robby the Robot in Forbidden Planet (1956).

Since this version of Yamato would be swept aside by bigger things in the coming years, little to no production documentation survives. But it is interesting to note that Director Gino Tanasescu would go on to a thriving career of film and TV directing, the highlight of which seems to be the 2002 action thriller Red Serpent, starring Roy Scheider and Michael Pare.

October: Golden Terebi Manga Double Deluxe

Nippon Columbia, CW-7085~6

This double-LP set gave the Yamato theme another home, sharing space with 27 other songs from the worlds of both anime and live-action. In less than a year, Yamato would be promoted to headliner status and become much easier to spot on album covers like this one.

December 20: Akira Hio manga reissued

The year closed with a reprint. Asahi Sonorama released a new edition of Akira Hio’s 3-volume manga with revised covers, a single illustration credited to Studio Nue. Other than this, the only difference from the first edition was a smaller paperback format. There would be more editions in later years, and Akira Hio himself would return to Yamato for every movie to come.

Also spotted in 1976

Space Battleship Yamato Data Collection

Nova Animation Books No. 1

This was another doujinshi published in 1976, though it doesn’t indicate which month. That said, it’s a real beaut with loads of unusual model sheets acquired from Academy Studio, and it can be seen from cover to cover here.

What’s Next

1977 was the year that changed everything. Not just for Yamato and its fans, but for the anime industry itself. The boom was so huge, we can still feel its aftershocks to this day. It’s a big nut that will take more than one report to crack, so we’ll start with a stretch of time that included all the most decisive moves leading up to the fateful month of August, when the future began.

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