Yamatour 2012, Part 2

Back up to part 1

January 29

The first full day after my arrival was spent shopping at the awesome Nakano Broadway mall, which sells something for every anime fan in the world, and it’s very hard to get out of there with your money intact. Both new and classic Yamato toys can be found at the Mandarake stores there, often priced to demoralize. For example, the special-edition Taito Yamato that was offered as a freebie to Fact File magazine subscribers will set you back about $150. Fortunately, I wasn’t after anything like that. My primary shopping goal for this trip was to collect anime magazines from 1981-1983 to mine for content on this website over the next year or two as we explore the making of Series 3 and Final Yamato. In one day, I managed to knock 2/3 of the targets off the hit list. By the time this article had to be put to bed, I reached 100%.

Dinner was a reunion with Mr. Masaru Enomoto, the chairman of Yamato Party (pictured above, between me and Anton). We met on the first Yamatour in spring 2009 when I finally got to attend a Yamato Party in person. This year it will happen again when the 20th YP is held in May. In TV series terms, YP has reached Planet Balan.

“I admire your energy” was Masaru’s comment to me when I told him I was making this trek again, and he was happy to meet up. Anton and Sword were there to make it a foursome.

In addition to the latest Yamato gossip, there’s always stuff happening in the fan community. For example, Masaru is brokering a doujinshi written last summer by a friend (who also happens to be a doctor) that covers Yamato music in unprecedented detail. It’s called Yamato BGM Encyclopedia and is exactly that, 120 pages of hard data on every aspect of the saga’s exquisite soundtrack music. I’d lost one in an online auction a couple weeks prior to this meeting, so you can imagine my amazement when Masaru produced a copy that he’d brought along just in case I might be interested in buying one. Had I won that auction, I would have paid about 5 times as much for it. Quite lucky, that.

Masaru has another musically-inclined friend who recently joined the ranks of Enagio Studio and became their resident expert. Evidently he can trace the source of every note ever recorded for every soundtrack, including the tracks that have still never been released. As fate would have it, we were destined to hear more about this just 24 hours later.

January 30

With some free time in the morning, I loitered around in Shinjuku and the nearby red-light district of Kabuki-cho, which is considerably less red in broad winter daylight. This is where the biggest pachinko parlors can be found, and the first one I walked into just happened to have a row of freshly-minted Yamato Resurrection Fever games.

Pachinko is still opaque to me, but Anton has been here for several weeks already and taught himself to play this particular game. It sounds like he’s done pretty well at it, winning enough money to keep himself fed and shopping. Pachinko licensing has turned into a reliable source of revenue for anime productions, so classic characters are constantly turning up in new games, as pictured here.

The latest in pachinko: (top row) Saint Seiya, Cyborg 009, live-action girl hero series Skeban Dekka.
(Bottom row) Macross Frontier, Maison Ikkoku, and the inescapable Fist of the North Star.

Back outside, I headed for Shinjuku station and saw another familiar face along the way. Meisa Kuroki (basically Japan’s answer to Beyonce) played Yuki in the live-action movie and she landed on a billboard adjacent to Shinjuku’s Alta Plaza. Looming over Alta Plaza itself is another familiar face: the ubiquitous Takuya Kimura, who played Kodai. He was there for my parting view at the end of Yamatour 2010 and greeted me upon my arrival this year. In other words, he’s been looking down from this commanding height for over a year.

What this means is that both Kodai and Yuki loom large over the bustling Shinjuku station, one on each side of the tracks. It would be a better story if they were facing each other across that unbridgeable gap, so just pretend that they are.

The rest of the morning was spent in the neighborhood of Harujuku, which I’d only ever passed through before today. It’s positioned between the twin epicenters of Shinjuku and Shibuya, and seems like a quiet hamlet in comparison. I took this jaunt at the behest of Yamatour 2010 participant Walter Amos. His most favorite anime is an SF series called Legend of the Galactic Heroes (directed by Yamato alumnus Noburu Ishiguro) and it’s the subject of a theme-cafe for this week only. I have yet to dive into LOGH myself, but any public celebration of SF anime is worth a look.

I was amused, therefore, to also trip over a store entirely dedicated to Neon Genesis Evangelion. I’ve seen and appreciated Eva, but am not a worshipper by any means. If I was, though, this would probably be my mecca.

I found the LOGH cafe with enough time left to order a cup of caramel tea and ravage the place with my camera. Its real name is the Tea House 2525, and was redressed for the week as a tie-in to the live stage version of LOGH (it’s mostly a character drama, so practical effects can probably stand in for all the space battles), but the bulk of the decor came from the anime series, mostly poster-sized cel art done for promotion and products.

While snapping these photos I thought I heard someone addressing me and turned to see another customer wearing a smile. He asked me in Japanese if I knew about LOGH. I asked him in Japanese if he spoke English, but he didn’t. So I was able to tell him that I’m a Yamato fan, but my friend is an LOGH fan. He got it.

During the entire time I was there, a girl was in a nearby glassed-in area doing what looked like a video podcast, or maybe a live webchat. She had a mask on, which was a little disconcerting. No idea what was being said, but between that and the overall gentility of the place, I had to respect the effort. The Gundam cafe in Akihabara is a permanent fixture, which gave its designers permission to go hog wild with it. For something that would only be around for seven days, the LOGH cafe was beautifully curated.

Other sites: after you get your ducks in a row, Harajuku has just the place for them. At right is the notorious “Johnny’s Office,” located in a warren of talent agencies. Johnny’s top star is Takuya Kimura, who played Kodai in the live-action movie. This was very likely the building in which Kimura’s contract was drafted to prevent the dubbing of the film in all foreign territories, thus placing a big wet blanket over exportation. In keeping with Johnny’s iron grip on all images everywhere, signs out front prohibit the taking of photos like this one. (Hi, Johnny!)

The afternoon was spent conducting my first official interview of the week, with Mr. Hidetaka Tenjin. Devotees of model kit box art, particularly of the Macross series, should recognize that name immediately. Tenjin is best known for his lovingly-rendered Valkyrie paintings, which have been collected into two amazing art books. But this only scratches the surface; as the current master of the craft, he has covered all the biggies.

The Space Battleship Yamato connection is a simple one; he was the primary artist for the mecha paintings in DeAgostini’s Yamato Fact File magazine, the single largest body of work ever published for the saga. Tenjin alone has easily painted more Yamato mecha than anyone else in history. Naturally, I wanted to meet him.

The initial contact had been brokered a few weeks earlier by friend-of-the-website Gwyn Campbell, who was happy to take a day off from work to join in. Our meeting was coordinated by mighty translator Sword Takeda and was initially meant to take place in Tenjin’s studio (imagine that!) but his daughter had recently caught a flu bug so we relocated to an ornate tea pavilion in a nearby hotel. (He lives in Chiba near Tokyo Disneyland, so this was an easy choice.) So while the norms around us partook in tea and crumpets, we yakked it up for two hours about robots and model kits.

Read the complete interview here.

Sneak preview: Tenjin said that, by far, the hardest painting of the set was the 2520 Yamato. His only reference was whatever he could pull from video stills, and its shape was extremely difficult to capture.

There was one more stop to make before calling it a day, and it’s one I’d been looking forward to since September 2010: the Yamato-themed Cafe Crew restaurant. There had been places for Yamato fans to gather prior to this, but only temporary setups like the LOGH cafe. Cafe Crew, on the other hand, is permanent.

You might notice a name match-up with the Yamato Crew website, and that’s no coincidence; the restaurant is owned and operated by the head office, Enagio Studio, which happens to be located nearby in the Tokyo district of Aoyama. Thus, the interior decor was pulled entirely from the official archive.

All of it got its first public appearance during the runup to Yamato Resurrection‘s 2009 premiere, as reported in our coverage here. The centerpiece then is the centerpiece now: a 15-foot model that nearly fills the foyer.

I first saw this behemoth in Osaka at an exhibition in an Osaka shopping mall and got plenty of photos. This time, the only thing that stopped me from putting my hand on it was a sign prohibiting such behavior. So instead I made sweet love to it all over again with my camera. See the photos here and get a better look inside the cases here.

Next to the giant is a glass case packed full with its smaller brethren, model kits in various sizes built mostly over the years by one master modeler: Nobuyuki Sakurai. For over a decade, he’s been the go-to guy for Dengeki Hobby magazine whenever new Yamato kits come out and need to be put through their paces. Think of Sakurai as the professional driver who takes a prototype out for a spin on the track. And if you ever wondered where all those amazing models end up after they’ve been photographed for the magazine, wonder no longer.

Up above it all is another piece of history, the reference model for Yamato 2520, built back in the early 90s by Makoto Kobayashi. I don’t have the heart to tell Hidetaka Tenjin about this.

The restaurant is laid out in a backwards L shape with the foyer as the horizontal and the dining area as the vertical. The only decor on that side is a set of four large original paintings from the 1980s that I enjoyed seeing again. As even a quick perusal of our galleries here on this site will prove, there were enough pieces like these to fill every square inch of the place many times over. A theme restaurant in America wouldn’t hesitate to do just that. But the more I hung out here the more I realized it wasn’t necessary. I’d still like to paint up the walls with video panels and dials and gauges, though. And a forward view from the bridge out into space would be pretty darn awesome. Heck, even a real-life reproduction of Yamato‘s crew galley would do it. Maybe Cafe Crew needs to become slightly more permanent for that to happen.

Something else I looked for was a themed menu. I’d seen photos of the menu on Japanese blogs, but it was utterly ordinary. However, things are now looking up. As of my visit, a secondary menu (shown at right) offered a Cocktail Yamato (passion fruit liqueur), Capuccino Yamato (with an anchor mark poured on top), an Iscandar Crepe (with ice cream), Comet Empire Parfait, Gamilas Pasta (colored black), Planet Bomb Pasta (yikes!) and a Planet Bomb Pizza (double yikes!).

In other words, a good start.

I was pretty satisfied with all that, but there was much more in store. Shortly after Sword and I arrived we were joined by Anton and our Yamato Party pal Eisuke Ogura, who we’d met on previous occasions. With him were staff members from Enagio Studio and the Yamato Crew website itself. They promised to bring us something special to watch on the video projector. (That’s another thing Cafe Crew has to offer–one wall is blank to serve as a screen; special previews of the Resurrection Director’s Cut had been shown here prior to my arrival.)

When I realized what this was, you could have pushed me over with a finger. As it started rolling, the whole room went silent. They were showing us a rough cut for the first episode of Space Battleship Yamato 2199.

I can say plenty without spoiling it, since the story is well-known. The way it is being retold is the real prize. The core is still there, still rock-solid. The look is entirely updated, but its roots are all self-evident. The overall design is fresh and modern. The directing style is both flashy and restrained where it needs to be. There are many touches fans will appreciate, especially unexpected character cameos that seem obvious in hindsight.

There are also breaks with the original, mainly in the character design. For longtime fans married to the Leiji Matsumoto design school, it’s going to take some getting used to. Like the live-action movie, there are things that cannot help but get a makeover simply because of the time and place of their making. This is definitely much closer to the original than the movie was, but seems just as determined to carve out its own identity.

And to that, I say: MORE, PLEASE.

Anton Kholodov’s homemade “star blazer” makes new friends everywhere he takes it

Deep discussion followed after this ultra-private screening, and it was all music to my ears. Literally, in one case; I asked if the new music for the Resurrection Director’s Cut was coming to CD, and was assured that this is in the works. When I mentioned how happy US fans were to hear about the forthcoming reissues of the Eternal Edition CDs, I was told that the still-unreleased tracks are also on the list of things to pay attention to in the near future.

It suddenly struck me that we were using Cafe Crew for its exact, intended purpose. As the plates of food emptied, the plates for the future rapidly filled up. 2199 is just the beginning.

Continue to Part 3

Bonus Pics:

Tokyo: the Pacific Rim’s winter wonderland. At right: the giant Yamato Mechanic Illustrations book collecting the art of Hidetaka Tenjin and others for Yamato Fact File magazine, on sale while the limited run of 5,000 copies last. This short stack was spotted at “Forest” in Shinjuku.

The latest free movie flyers available at the lobby of our beloved Shinjuku Picadilly theater. I can see the future from here!

Takuya (Kodai) Kimura–at far right–and his SMAP bandmates star in a currently-running ad campaign for Softbank. The TV version of this has them running full-tilt through train stations to the tune of “Bird is the Word.”

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