“Our Yamato Special”
An eyewitness report by Gwyn Campbell, edited by Tim Eldred
The Yamato 2199 Launch Ceremony was held on February 18 at Yomiuri Hall, a well-known if slightly hard to find (its entrance is above an electronics store) venue located across the road from the Tokyo International Forum in the Yurakucho district.
I arrived about an hour before the doors were due to open, only to find myself at the end of a line of fellow eager Yamato fans, several flights of stairs in length. I wasn’t at the end for too long though, as more and more people joined the back of the queue.
The doors opened 15 minutes late, leaving us with only 45 minutes before the event was due to start. Upon entering the lobby, we were greeted by three young ladies in Yuki Mori costumes who were handing out promotional materials for Yamato 2199.
After managing to tear my eyes away from them (no easy feat, I assure you!) I realized that the lobby had a few items on display in commemoration of the event. To the right was a table displaying plastic models, a collection of Yamato LPs, and a large cut-away model of the Yamato itself. [Editor’s note: this was one of the famous “Precision Cut Models,” made in the 70s. See photos at the bottom of the page.]
To the left hung artwork used for posters of the major theatrical releases over the years, as well as a display copy of the recently-released Yamato Mechanical Illustrations book from DeAgostini. Past this mini art-gallery was the line for merchandise, which snaked halfway across the lobby. It was made up of fans eager to pick up a Yamato 2199 poster or clear file despite the insistence of staff that they would be offered via the official website at a later date.
Armed with one of the aforementioned posters, I entered the hall itself, along with 1,099 fellow fans. It was a full house. My seat was on the second floor balcony, but I was fortunate enough to have gotten in the front row–unequivocally one of the best seats in the house from which to observe the 2.5 hrs of pure Yamato goodness that was to follow.
The Launch ceremony was divided into four parts.
PART 1: Introduction
At 18:30 on the dot the lights dimmed and a list of all previous series’ and movies’ dates was displayed on a large screen onstage (listing everything up until Resurrection but not the live action film, interestingly enough).
With the hall still dark, a siren suddenly sounded a red alert and Kodai’s voice boomed out, asking all crew members to stand at attention! Everyone stood up and, without warning, lit by a single spotlight, Isao Sasaki marched onto the stage in his iconic pink sequined jacket. Without any introduction, he started singing the Yamato theme. There was absolutely no better way to get the crowd pumped–everyone was cheering and singing along. Sasaki looked and sounded pretty good, proving that he still has what it takes at nearly 70 years of age.
When the song ended, he walked offstage to thunderous applause. The curtains parted to reveal a large screen, lights dimmed again and we were thrust straight into episode 1 of Yamato 2199! The episode had no opening title, but included the ending song after the actual episode itself.
Bloggers in the audience published their thoughts about it over the following days.
A fan with the online name “Densan” wrote: Very satisfied with episode 1. It addresses my dissatisfaction with ship movement seen in the teaser.
“Odin 2099” had more to say: Some things seemed almost traced verbatim with regard to scene edits, sound effects, and music. Familiar characters are well-placed. Hirata, Yamanami and Hijikata appear, and Kato is the one who tries to stop Kodai from flying off. Sequels seem to have been taken into account. Not many new characters appeared, so we didn’t get a feel for how they mix with the main characters, but overall it was acceptable. It is also full of modern military terms. I was thinking of giving up on this when the new characters were announced, but now I have a ray of hope.
PART 2: Staff Talk
When the episode ended and everyone picked their collective jaw up off the floor, our MC’s for the evening appeared on stage:
Rina Sato (at left): new Yamato 2199 character Makoto Harada (Nurse)
(Previous works: Gurren Lagaan, Beyblade, Hayate the Combat Butler)
Aya Uchida (at right): new Yamato 2199 character Yuria Misaki.
(Previous works: Freezing)
They were then joined by Yutaka Izubuchi (General Director), Nobuteru Yuuki (Character design) and Ryusuke Hikawa (noted anime critic and Yamato fan). [Editor’s note: Hikawa’s name should be known to anime fandom everywhere, since he is essentially our founding member.]
Before getting started, Izubuchi noted that we were all honorary crew members for the evening–everyone had actually been given crew badges–and the hall was immediately filled with sound of rustling plastic as we all started tearing open the packet they we been given at the door. Yours truly was an ensign.
From left: Yutaka Izubuchi, Nobuteru Yuuki, Ryusuke Hikawa
The talk then started, beginning with a brief explanation of Yamato for those who might not be familiar with the series.
~Yamato Changed Anime~
Izubuchi discussed how Yamato had changed anime, a topic expanded upon by Hikawa, who noted that Yamato had changed the public’s perception of anime in the 1970s. Before Yamato, anime had been seen as something strictly for kids. It was the first anime to feature a story suitable for young adults. Without Yamato there would have been no Gundam (*crowd chuckles*).
In fact, Yamato was responsible for many elements of modern anime culture, including the doujinshi scene (which is still going strong in Japan to this day). In fact, many anime magazine writers and editors had originally been influenced by Yamato, and without anime magazines there would most likely have been no Nausicaa. [Editor’s note: Nausicaa began as a manga in Animage Magazine, which became a major sponsor of the film adaptation, which in turn launched the world-reknowned Studio Ghibli.]
Following Yamato, many anime (Gundam, etc) would go on to copy Yamato‘s approach of dropping the viewer into the middle of a conflict with minimal initial exposition. The striking visual of a red earth had been shocking and left a lasting impression on many viewers. Nobuteru Yuuki discussed the impact that the ‘days left’ countdown had on him when he was a child.
Yamato actually introduced the term “warp” into Japan. It may have been used previously in the original Star Trek, but it wasn’t a commonly-known word in Japanese until Yamato introduced the iconic warp scene. Additionally, Yamato was the first anime to show the process of charging energy, preparing, firing, recharging, etc., with the Wave-Motion Gun, although this sequence was truncated later on.
Hikawa also took a moment to clarify what his role is in relation to 2199. Some sources had miscredited him as being a writer on the series. Actually, he has only had some script input as an observer. He was more involved with promotional writing and PR for the show.
~The Challenge of Yamato 2199~
Izubuchi explained that the original Yamato was a slower-paced show, which was fine at the time, but he intends to speed up the pacing with 2199. For example, whereas the first firing of the Wave-Motion Gun took 5 episodes in the original series, in 2199 this will happen by episode 3. Admittedly, it’s difficult to achieve this balance between narrative and pacing. The story will be more compact but he doesn’t intend to skip any of the major events of the original.
In 2199, the human race has already had some form of communication from Iscandar. As a result, Kodai is actually waiting for the message capsule from Starsha to arrive during the Battle of Pluto, which is actually more of a diversionary tactic, albeit one that results in many casualties.
One of the elements Izubuchi intends to change is how Gamilas is depicted. He wants to create a more thorough world-setting for Gamilas, to really show that it’s an empire. For example, in the original Yamato the Gamilas skin color changed to blue halfway through the series in order to make them seem more alien. In 2199, Gamilas has colonized various planets, resulting in members of varying color. Those who aren’t blue have entered the military from the Empire’s colonies.
The distance to Iscandar has been adjusted from 148,000 to 168,000 light years based on the newest scientific estimates of the distance to the Large Magellanic Cloud. Actual scientists and specialists in this area were consulted in order to determine this. [Editor’s note: the word “Cloud” has also been modified to “Galaxy.”]
Nobuteru Yuuki loved the original Yamato as a child and wanted to do something new with the character designs for 2199 even though he loves Matsumoto’s work. (It’s worth noting that he has worked with Matsumoto previously, adapting his designs for the Captain Harlock Endless Odyssey OAV series and a Galaxy Express 999 pachinko game).
When you think about it, the characters in the original series were, at best, based off Matsumoto’s designs, and adapted for animation. [Read our account of the original character design process here.] Yuuki considered taking a similar approach for 2199 but decided that more newness was needed. This sort of challenge is what he found fun about designing the characters for 2199.
PART 3: Artist Live Performance
Akira Miyagawa came out on stage. He is the composer/music supervisor for Yamato 2199 and, as those who recognize his surname may have already guessed, is the son of Yamato‘s original composer Hiroshi Miyagawa. Akira is quite the colorful character with those distinctive hair highlights and all. When asked to talk a bit about his recollections of the original Yamato as a child, he replied that he would like to but would need about 4.5 hours to do the topic justice!
Actually, as a senior high school student, he played the Comet Empire theme on pipe organ for Farewell to Yamato. The problem was that he hadn’t actually played the pipe organ before. As a result, it took 36 takes to get it right, and he was in tears by the end! (Miyagawa was first credited for music in Yamato III, which was also Izubuchi’s first Yamato work as a mecha designer.)
His father had composed and recorded 70 BGM tracks for the original series, but the recording tapes were damaged, so Akira listened to what he could and recomposed them over a two-month period, which he described as going back to school. This makes up two-thirds of 2199‘s music, with the remaining third composed by Akira himself.
The curtains behind Miyagawa parted to reveal a grand piano with which he treated the audience to two pieces, while simultaneously giving a sort of mini-lecture about the history of Yamato music. Did you know that the original Yamato theme was composed based on certain melodic elements from Over the Rainbow? And at Nishizaki’s request, no less! Perhaps the biggest surprise for the crowd was Miyagawa’s statement that, while Yamato‘s music was renowned for being classical in nature, if you listen closely approximately 70% of it was actually based on progressive rock, such as that performed by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. Why? The answer is simple: rock music is a lot easier to compose!
Miyagawa also mentioned that when his father had worked on the original soundtrack, the descriptions of the sort of tracks that Nishizaki wanted were a lot more detailed than usual. For example, ‘Fleet arrives at battle’ was one track description, and ‘Fleet leaves battle’ was another. And yes, different music was composed based on such descriptions.
One of the new tracks is a fresh Cosmo Tiger theme. It was the request of Chief Director Akihiro Enomoto to put some “wandaba” into the song like the Be Forever Yamato version rather than the original. This didn’t seem to be the intention of Director Izubuchi, who said, “I want to emphasize that this was at the request of Mr. Enomoto.” But it was very well received.
[Explanatory note from August Ragone: “Wandaba” is a famous repeating chorus line created by composer Tohru Fuyuki in his score for the Ultra Series, which began with Ultra Seven (1967) in a song of the same title, which used a “1, 2, 3, 4” repeating background chorus. But, the first official use of the “Wandaba” was in Return of Ultraman (1971) for the heroic theme of the Monster Attack Team as they sortie into action. Not only has Fuyuki used it extensively, but other composers have also incorporated it into both live-action and anime soundtracks over the years, such as Mobile Police Patlabor. If you hear one, it’s probably Fuyuki or inspired by Fuyuki.]
Finally, Miyagawa played a verse of a Gamilas National Anthem he composed for 2199. This song is meant to reflect the militaristic nature of the Gamilas Empire. It is also used as the basis for Gamilas-related battle music, etc., throughout the new series. Lyrics were projected on a screen behind him so the audience could sing along with Miyagawa and Izubuchi. [Editor’s note: interestingly, it included the term “Gare Gamilon,” using the Star Blazers version of the name. Whether this is a person or alien terminology remains to be seen.]
Isao Sasaki then returned for a brief chat with Miyagawa. He talked about his history with Yamato and mentioned how, when he had first been given a copy of the lyrics for the theme, the photocopy had cut the margin off, including the key in which the song was supposed to be sung. So when he first turned up at the studio for rehearsals he had the key completely wrong. Fortunately he managed to practice and get it right before Nishizaki arrived.
It was then announced, to the cheering of the crowd, that he would be reprising the song for the opening of Yamato 2199! Without further ado, Sasaki then picked up the mic again and belted out a stirring rendition of The Scarlet Scarf. [Editor’s note: a few days later it was announced that a CD single featuring Sasaki’s new versions of the main theme and The Scarlet Scarf would be released April 25.]
From left: Akira Miyagawa, Isao Sasaki, Aira Yuki
After this he was joined on stage by Aira Yuki, who sings the new ending theme. She handed Akira Miyagawa a bouquet of flowers for his birthday and talked with Sasaki about what big shoes she had to fill when performing a Yamato song. He welcomed her into the fold of famous singers who have contributed their skills to the saga’s lengthy catalogue, and said there is always room for something new. She took her turn at the mic for a mesmerizing live performance of the song, the title of which can be translated as In the Eternal Light of the Stars.
Part 4: Cast Talk
It was now time to introduce some of the voice cast of 2199. On to the stage came:
Takayuki Sugou – Captain Okita
Previous Works: Legend of Galactic Heroes, Gundam Unicorn
Daisuke Ono – Susumu Kodai
Previous Works: Haruhi Suzumiya, Gundam Age
Houko Kuwajima – Yuki Mori
Previous Works: Nadesico, Gundam Seed, Rahxephon, Macross Frontier
Kenichi Suzumura – Daisuke Shima
Previous Works: Gundam Seed Destiny, Final Fantasy Advent Children, Aquarion Evol, and recently married to singer/seiyuu Maaya Sakamoto
They were also joined by General Director Yutaka Izubuchi and Character Designer Nobuteru Yuuki.
Each actor took turns introducing their respective characters to the audience.
Takayuki Sugou got a chuckle when he started off his introduction with an air of great authority. “Captain Okita is….well… he’s Captain Okita.” (Sugou himself actually looks quite captain-ish.) Kenichi Suzumura described Shima as the guy who gets to say ‘WAAAAAARP!’ Houko Kuwashima looked at a picture of Yuki that was being projected on the screen behind her before saying “Yuki is…very…well….yellow.”
Aya Uchida and Rina Sato discussed some of the new female characters in the show. Designs for four new female characters were shown, as well as the new designs for Gamilas officers Domel, Shulz and Ganz. When asked why Shultz and Ganz were white, Izubuchi replied that this was indicative of their lower standing in the hierarchy of the Gamilas Empire, having joined from the colonies.
Izubuchi also pointed out that he had initially objected very strongly to the “stupid hair” of the new characters, but eventually bowed to pressure. The venue was filled with laughter as he grumbled.
No, this segment wasn’t a 3D model, but rather a live reading by the cast of a scene from episode 3: the first firing of the Wave-Motion Gun.
Since episode 3 isn’t due to be shown in cinemas until June, the scene wasn’t read to the animation but rather to screenshots of the scene from episode 3. (Talk about teasing!) Fog machines went into overdrive to provide atmosphere, covering not only part of the stage, but also flowing down until the first 8 rows of the audience were completely enveloped. Even from my vantage point on the 2nd floor I could see only the tops of their heads through all the fog.
After the scene, Suzumura (Shima) noted that he had read for characters whose actors were not on stage. He actually has very few lines during the scene.
Some of the lines were familiar enough, but were delivered with such intensity that the audience was riveted to their seats.
Energy charge at 120%
Anti-shock dampeners and glare reducers–ON!
Once the reading was over, the cast left the stage and the lights dimmed again. We were then treated to the actual opening title of 2199. Much of it was (as noted by Izubuchi afterwards) recreated shot by shot from the original, but some new shots were included as well. These were overseen by Hideaki Anno (of Evangelion fame). Overall, the aim was to recreate the same feel of the original opening from 1974.
(It has to be noted here that the iconic Yamato salute has been changed from the hand across the chest to a more modern, navy-style salute, which evoked some grumbling from the audience.)
To wrap things up, the MC’s presented slides with information regarding cinema release dates, the upcoming manga adaptation, and the start of a new Yamato internet radio show from March 26.
Finally, to end the event in style and tradition, cast and crew came out on stage one last time to break open two large casks of sake. The sake was the same brand drunk by Dr. Sado in 2199. While it had been made up especially for the show, there is in fact a distillery in Japan that makes sake by the same name.
With a great roar of HASSHIN! [LAUNCH!] from Sugou, the tops of the casks were cracked open and photographers in the front row were given a quick photo op.
In closing, Daisuke Ono [Kodai] noted, “I’ll be happy if this work becomes a bridge between a new generation and the old one that already knows Yamato, and if they can enjoy it together.”
Izubuchi came close to tears as he left the crowd with the following message:
“We started work on Yamato 2199 three years ago. When I first heard that the project was greenlit, I knew that I absolutely had to do it. The results, in my opinion, speak for themselves, but of course if you ask 100 fans what Yamato is you will get 100 different answers. It’s impossible to please everyone 100%, but I think we have managed to satisfy as many people as possible. Please bear with us, 26 episodes is a long way to go.’
And with that, the Yamato 2199 Launch Ceremony was officially over.
Or was it?
The cast and crew waved goodbye and filed off stage. Some of the audience stood up to leave, but then the lights dimmed for a final time as a brand new 2199 trailer was played. It was just under four minutes in length and seemed to be composed of footage from episodes 1 and 2–a taste of what is in store when the first theatrical screening starts in April.
This trailer was released online the following week and can be viewed at the links below. You don’t want to miss it!
See it at Amazon.co.jp’s Yamato 2199 page here.
See both the teaser and the full trailer together on YouTube here.
The event ended in much the same way as it started, on a gigantic high for Yamato fans both old and new alike. It went above and beyond to convey that, despite the shiny new coat of paint, this IS Yamato as we know it. In many respects, the torch had been passed, but the new bearers are fans every bit as much as those in the audience. Their respect and love for the original permeated each and every part of the Launch Ceremony and left everyone with the distinct feeling that April simply couldn’t come soon enough.
All the badges that were made for the event: “ENSIGN” was the rank given to
general attendees. White anchors were for staff members, and character
photos were for designated voice actors.
Online news coverage:
Official 2199 site
Geinou News Lounge.net
OCN [Open Computer Network] Anime News (part 1)
OCN Anime News (part 2)
Blog report by “Minkara”
Ryusuke Hikawa’s blog
“Collection Days” blog report
MJTV (Music Japan TV)
August Ragone’s blog
Bonus: Lobby Displays
Various LPs and Laserdiscs laid out at the bow of the famous six-foot “Precision Cut Model.”
Toys and models (both old and new) made by Bandai, along with signage indicating a continued merchandising alliance.
Commemorative bouquets for good luck. The one at left was sent by Shoji Nishizaki, head of Enagio Studio.
The one in the center was sent for MC Aya Uchida, and the one at right was provided by Kodai’s voice actor, Daisuke Ono.
DeAgostini’s Yamato Mechanical Illustrations book lay open for inspection under a row of movie paintings, on loan from the Cafe Crew restaurant. Also on display was an ultra-rare original from the “lost manga” by Yuki Hijiri (shown at right) which had its own dedicated security guard.