Vintage Report 4: 1977, Part 1

It is no exaggeration to state that the period covered in this report was the most pivotal time in all of Yamato history. The movie that would change everything was already in production as the year began and there was low-level buzz about it, but getting that movie in front of the public was the key to everything that followed. If any part of the process had gone differently, Space Battleship Yamato might well be remembered now as a single TV series that was too far ahead of its time to succeed.

January 1: Yamato Association fanzine No. 1

Independent fan clubs were still at the forefront of activity, none moreso than Yamato Association, the new and improved (and more limited) version of Yamato Laboratory. The first sign of exactly how improved they were was the debut issue of their new doujinshi (fanzine), simply titled Yamato.

This extravagant 62-pager was a compilation of the best material from their previous ‘zines, including an exclusive interview with Director Noboru Ishiguro. See it from cover to cover (and read the interview) here.

January 1: Manga Shonen January issue

Over on the professional side of the publishing coin, Yamato coverage was slowly starting to gather steam. Manga Shonen was a very popular monthly manga magazine from Asahi Sonoroma with high-profile talent like Osamu Tezuka, Leiji Matsumoto, Go Nagai, Monkey Punch, and many more. As it happened, one of the editors around this time was Yoshikazu Hirose, who worked on the first Yamato series and was now an in-house advocate for animation coverage.

The January issue included a 9-page article called The Wonderful World of TV Anime (one of the earliest uses of “anime” in print) that provided a broad overview of the industry and singled out Yamato for special attention. Hirose had already broken news about the forthcoming movie in his own magazine Fantoche, so it’s very likely that he was carrying the torch in Manga Shonen as well.

See the article here.

January: Yamato/Triton EP

Before Yamato, there was an earlier Yoshinobu Nishizaki anime that inspired a similar level of devotion: Triton of the Sea. It was a 1972 TV series based on an Osamu Tezuka manga (English edition released in two volumes by Digital Manga Publishing, 2013). Due to a “clerical error,” Nishizaki wound up with animation rights after working for Tezuka, and he made good use of them.

Triton was the first known anime to spawn its own fan club and inspire fans to seek out the production studio, just as Yamato did in 1974. The show also had quite a rousing theme song, which gave Nippon Columbia a good excuse to gang up its songs with Yamato‘s onto a 4-track EP. That made this the first Yamato single since December 1974.

Read more about Triton here. Listen to the title song here.

January 25: Iscandar Vol. 1

There was always room for another fan club! Iscandar was the doujinshi for CBYC (Cosmo Battleship Yamato Connection), a 28-page debut with art, analysis and fanfic. Arriving just in time for the coming groundswell, it would continue through the summer of 1980.

See it from cover to cover here.

February 1: Manga Shonen February issue

There was no Yamato coverage in this one, but it did contain a full page ad from Sonorama for the original Space Battleship Yamato novelization, along with two other titles. (Read it from cover to cover here.)

February: Space Battleship Yamato parody manga doujinshi

This curious artifact was a small-format fanzine from a fan group called Tokiwa Publishing. About the size of a paperback, it was branded as Tokiwa Action Comics 1 and contained a 50-page parody manga mashup combining Yamato, Captain Harlock, and Cyborg 009 characters.

See it from cover to cover here.

March 1: Yamato Association fanzine No. 2

The second issue of Yamato ran 68 pages and contained a real treasure: the entire production script of Episode 1, curated to include all the design and animation art Yamato Association had collected from Academy studio.

See it from cover to cover here.

March 25: Iscandar Vol. 2

The second issue of Iscandar was a tour de force of analysis on Series 1 with deep dives into everything from the mission calendar to the theory of warp technology. It also included what may likely be the only published account of the Yamato panel that took place at Tokon 6 (August 1976).

See it from cover to cover here.

April 18: OUT magazine #2

When we look at all the publishing efforts between the end of the TV series and the premiere of the movie, none are more important than this one. OUT began as a sort of eclectic subculture magazine with the mission of probing the edges of mainstream life. Teenagers who still liked anime after they were expected to grow out of it were fair game.

The editor, an iconoclast known only as “Mr. K,” had made contact with the members of Yamato Association and invited them to produce a cover story for this issue. They gave him much more than he bargained for, cranking out 60 pages of content titled Yamato World. This was pure gold to starving fans, and they bought up every issue of OUT #2 as fast as it hit the newsstands.

The cherry on top was the first known interview with Exec Producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki, whose every word must have been a revelation to the readers, especially when he said, “As for the future, a movie is planned for release this summer in both America and Japan, though the American version doesn’t have as much of Captain Okita’s life and death struggle in it. Toshio Masuda, the great master of Japanese cinema who made the domestic scenes in Tora Tora Tora, gave all his energy to the editing. It will be about two hours long.”

A release date was unknown at this point, since Nishizaki didn’t have any sort of distribution deal in place. He speculated that he might rent out a theater for special limited screenings if nothing else came to pass.

Of course, there’s much more to the story of OUT magazine. Read about how it happened and see all of the Yamato content here.

May 1: Manga Shonen May issue

This issue took another big step forward with an 8-page followup to the January article titled The Wonderful World of TV Anime, Part II: All About Space Battleship Yamato. The opening blurb made it perfectly clear what motivated this move: “After the last anime feature, many passionate voices responded and asked for Yamato! This appealing special feature is presented in response!”

There were new comments from Nishizaki, though the OUT interview still had much more to offer. But Manga Shonen would step in again when the time was right.

See this article here.

May 1: Yamato Land No. 1

Hot off their unexpected success with OUT magazine, the leaders of Yamato Association revived their Yamato Land newsletter to round up information on recent club activities and list all the latest product announcements. The highlight was a Black Tiger origami that you could build and fly.

See the complete newsletter here.

Producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki, 1977

Early May: The turning point

May 1977 was the month everything finally turned in Yamato‘s favor. As we learned from the interview in OUT magazine, Nishizaki’s plan for the movie was still quite modest. The film distribution system in Japan was very insular at the time, unfriendly to independent producers like him. Having given up on them, his last resort was to look for a single theater he could rent out for a week of limited screenings for fans. When he approached an entertainment company called Tokyu Recreation with this proposal, he finally got the reception he was hoping for.

The Tokyu reps watched the movie in a private screening and – astonishingly – LIKED IT. They thought it would be just right for summer release and offered to book it into four Tokyo theaters. That may not sound like a lot, but it was much more than Nishizaki expected.

This was the beginning of a success story like no other in Japanese cinema, and a much more detailed account can be read here

Films don’t get very far without publicity, so Tokyu brought in an affiliate company, Major Enterprise, to handle the advertising. But the budget wasn’t going to be very big, so it was incumbent upon Nishizaki to do what he could on his own. His first move was to fly off to France…

May 13-27: 30th Cannes Film Festival

Back in January, post-production was completed on the English version of the movie, officially titled Space Cruiser Yamato. (That title became somewhat indelible as a result; the word “Cruiser” would remain attached to the saga in Japan all the way through 1988 when it officially reverted to “Battleship.”) Cannes is known as a place for films to compete for awards, but it also serves as a marketplace for distributors to screen movies for consideration. (See a record of the films seen in the 1977 festival here.)

Space Cruiser Yamato was screened at the marketplace with this English-language flyer as an accompanying promotional piece. Deals were made with several different distributors in the United States, Mexico, Canada, England, and France. The timing couldn’t be better; now there was a big talking point for the coming publicity push in Japan.

See a larger version of the flyer (with readable text) here.

May 25: Iscandar Vol. 3 doujinshi

This 24-page issue kept the party going with a TV series encyclopedia, lots of mecha design art, another rare staff interview, fanfic, and more.

See it from cover to cover here.

May 25: International incident

On the other side of the globe, an ambitious man had finally won his own epic struggle to get his visionary SF story onto the big screen. His name was NOT Yoshinobu Nishizaki, but the impact of his film quickly sent shock waves around the world that would give Yamato an unexpected boost. Japan wouldn’t get Star Wars until the summer of 1978, but the buzz about it was so unique and intriguing that it implied an SF boom was on the way. Whatever appeared next to bolster that signal was definitely going to be noticed.

Luck and timing, as they say, is everything.

Foldout press kit, side A

June: Publicity campaign begins

Nishizaki and his allies at Major Entertainment had a big job to do. In a single sweep, they had to (A) educate the media about anime, (B) explain what Yamato was, and (C) convince them that the forthcoming movie (now scheduled to premiere on August 6) was going to be a big deal. This effort began with press conferences, which themselves were unheard of for animated films.

Foldout press kit, side B

It began in the Grand Palace Hotel in Tokyo and branched outward from there with Nishizaki leading the charge as an ambassador for both his own film – which already had “international approval” – and an entire industry that was waiting to be taken seriously. The media obliged with the first newspaper article appearing in Daily Sports on June 4 and more newspapers picking up the story as momentum caught on. (See a record below.)

However, engaging the media was just one component in the campaign. The other, hatched by Nishizaki on his own, would have an even greater impact…

June: Crowdsourcing 1.0

The plan had been in the oven since the groundbreaking publication of OUT magazine #2. One by one, phones started ringing in the homes of fan club leaders. They were no doubt stunned to hear Office Academy at the other end, inviting them to a personal meeting with Yoshinobu Nishizaki. (Talk about a call to remember!)

One by one, they showed up to share with Nishizaki what they knew about Yamato fandom (read one such account here and another here). As the wheels started turning with Tokyu Recreation, the result of these talks emerged: a “guerilla marketing” press kit. In this case, the “guerillas” would be the fans. The mission was to boost advance ticket sales as much as possible.

The kit consisted of one advance ticket and two copies of a mini-poster. The front of the poster was a new painting by the great Naoyuki Katoh of Studio Nue, who still produces Yamato works as of this writing. The back touted the major talking points of the film and promoted two upcoming products: a new novelization and a soundtrack LP (keep reading).

Both sides listed the four theaters that would show the film, promoting advance tickets for 900yen. One estimate is that 100,000 of these kits were mailed out to everyone who requested one, and all they had to do was put up their extra poster in public view.

Another item in the kit was a promotional postcard and a list of media organizations to send it to. And finally, a phone list for radio stations to call up and request airplay of the Yamato theme. All of this worked like a charm; as soon as the fans mobilized, advance ticket sales exploded.

Read more about the campaign here.

June 1: Big Manga Book

This was a special volume published by Akita Shoten under the Playcomic imprint, a plump 576-page “best of” collection for summer reading. It prominently featured a reprint of Leiji Matsumoto’s Yamato bonus chapter, Eternal Story of Jura. The rest of the lineup included some true heavy hitters, such as Cyborg 009, Submarine 707, Astro Boy, and many more. As an interesting sign of growing prominence, the Yamato chapter and the Astro Boy chapter were the only ones printed in color.

June 18: OUT magazine #4

After the smash success of issue 2, OUT‘s sales dropped right back down with issue 3, prompting the editor to summon a second lightning strike. He quickly arranged for the Yamato Association members to stage a comeback, and they were happy to oblige. They didn’t have time for another mega-feature, but they pulled 9 pages together as a prelude to bigger things in issue 5, and repeated the fresh news of the movie premiere on August 6. The back cover (above right) noted that info on advance ticket sales could be found inside (on page 125).

See all the issue 4 content here.

July 1: Song and Drama EP

This was the first music release of 1977 to include new content, though it wasn’t actually musical. Nippon Columbia reprinted the opening and ending themes on one side, and filled the other with a drama track (the audio portion of a TV episode) titled Break through the Gamilas’ Absolute Defense Line!

It was the first of many “drama” recordings to come, giving fans a little more to hold onto until their next chance to see it on their screens.

Yamato Association membership, 1977

July 1: Yamato Association fanzine No. 3

Despite their workload on OUT magazine, the gang really delivered with this issue; 92 pages of parodies, comic strips, production notes and tons of material on Episode 18 including production notes, the recording script, and model sheets.

However, BECAUSE of that workload, this would be the last issue of Yamato. A fourth was started with a focus on Gamilas, but was never completed. With so much else going on (not to mention real life), they were being pulled in different directions and finding fan activities difficult to prioritize. Other club projects would continue, but there were bigger fish to fry over the coming year, such as taking over OUT magazine and helping to create a whole new world of anime journalism.

See this issue from cover to cover here.

July 18: OUT magazine #5

Yamato World Part 2 filled 50 pages with the first-ever look at the origins of the TV series, interviews with director Noboru Ishiguro and singer Isao Sasaki, a 16-page parody manga, and a message from Yoshinobu Nishizaki. His “Producer’s message” would become a staple of forthcoming books and record albums, and this one certainly set the tone.

“I’m fortunate that others have accepted Space Battleship Yamato, but I am still not satisfied. Releasing it into the world market was a test of whether or not the ability of the production staff would be measure up. I think it’s a big problem when your sense of self is based on being accepted by others. But the fact that we could sell it on the international circuit tells us that it meets the global standard, and it should produce big profits.”

It provided a fascinating glimpse of the man at a key moment, as everything was ascending toward the premiere. It was perhaps the first time since 1973 that he knew his dues were paid in full. Yamato was going to reach its intended audience and he was aglow with positive energy, even going on record for the first time about a sequel.

“What I am most anxious about at this time is how Yamato will be accepted by boys and girls at many levels. Once I know this, I will dig deeper into the theme and think hard about where to take it next. On that basis, I want to make a great sequel.”

Read all of the issue 5 content in English here.

July 18: Toei enters the fray

With things heating up and fan clubs forming all over the country (in response to the call for promotional help), Tokyu Recreation began to think the movie should have a chance to be seen outside Tokyo. For this, they called upon another affiliate, none other than Toei Pictures, which covered the entire country. At last, the mainstream film industry was listening.

July 20: Novelization Vol. 1:
Yamato Launch Volume

Almost two and a half years had passed since the first novelization concluded, which meant the only version you could get was vastly different from the anime (read it for yourself here to see how different). On this day, a straightforward adaptation finally appeared from the same publisher (Asahi Sonorama), a hardcover festooned with the largest collection of stills from the series (both in color and black & white) that had yet been released by anyone.

Yoshinobu Nishizaki was credited as the author (with contributions from Leiji Matsumoto), but it’s equally possible that they were ghost-written under his name. Evidence one way or the other has yet to be discovered. It was the first of three volumes, with the other two to follow in August, and it took the story through Episode 10 of the TV series in 192 pages.

The smaller paperback version (shown at right) came out simultaneously with the same content in 240 pages, but only a few pages of color stills.

July 25: Drama album LP

This was the “big brother” of the EP released by Nippon Columbia at the start of July. It was officially referred to as a “soundtrack,” which probably led many to the false conclusion that it would be a music-only album. Instead, it was an audio mix of music, dialogue, and sound effects that condensed the story into just 47 minutes. A cassette was released simultaneously, shown at right. For those who just wanted the music, the wait was going to last a while longer.

Both the novelization and this album had been advertised alongside movie promotion, and in the space of just five days, fans had two new ways to relive the story on demand. In just four more days, they would also have a way to watch it on TV again.

July 25: Manga no Hoshi No. 1

This qualifies as a fanzine, but sits one level above doujinshis for the quality of its printing and content, published by “Nippon Manga Fan.” In 44 pages, it focused on the work of Leiji Matsumoto with a short interview, a handful of essays, and a reprint of his pivotal 1969 SF manga Daffin, which was the first to use the term “Space Wave-Motion Theory.” It ended with another trumpet blast for the Yamato movie, now less than two weeks away.

Weekly TV Programs magazine, week of July 23-29

July 29: TV rerun, Yomiuri Network

The writing was surely on the wall by now; ratings for previous reruns had blown well past 20% and visibility had never been higher. That made it the perfect moment for Yomiuri, the original broadcaster, to bring Yamato back for a third time, airing on Friday nights throughout the rest of the year. To the diehard fans, it must have felt like the ultimate validation. But it could not compare to what was coming on August 6.

Newswatch: Headlines and highlights for June/July

For the sake of posterity, all of the press and magazine coverage for the Yamato movie was indexed in Office Academy’s Space Battleship Yamato Complete Records books (commonly known as the “silver set”). This allows us to see how newspapers and magazines reacted to the emerging phenomenon, which must have seemed to come out of nowhere. Here are headlines and highlights from that index.

(Translation note: “shimbun” means “newspaper.” The literal translation is shin/new • bun/hearsay)

The eccentric Space Battleship Yamato conquers movie theaters around the world. Pushed by an abnormal boom, it reappears at the movies.
Hochi Shimbun, June 11

All Yamato fans in Japan! We will establish an office for a Yamato fan club. Please tell us about your activities by letter or phone. (We are thinking of providing cels and other materials.)
Sports Nippon, June 16

The science fiction adventure action Space Battleship Yamato, which depicts the exploits of young space warriors who stand firm when all mankind on earth is about to perish, will be made into a movie.
Nikkan Sports, June 24

Fan’s Request Fulfilled!
Daily Sports, June 24

As a result of fan’s enthusiasm, Space Battleship Yamato will be screened during the summer vacation.
Asahi Elementary School Shimbun • TV Topic, June 28

Space Battleship Yamato is screened, attracting attention as to whether a SF boom would occur in Japan.
Hochi Shimbun, June 28

Space Battleship Yamato sound world broadcast on FM.
Mainichi Shimbun, June 29

Interest in SF and dreams of the young, the appeal of anime and BGM (theme music), characters that capture girls’ hearts; the combination of these elements has caused the Yamato boom.
Daily Sports/Movie Plaza, July 4

Even after the TV broadcast, nearly 30 fan clubs are active nationwide, and the novels, manga publications, and theme song records have become hidden bestsellers.
Sankei, July 8

Space Battleship Yamato to be rerun on TV.
Yomiuri Shimbun, July 8

Space Battleship Yamato lives in the hearts of a wide generation.
Yomiuri Shimbun, July 19

Space Battleship Yamato is a hot topic.
Seikyo Shimbun, July 19

Yamato gives nostalgia to the wartime generation and alien romance to the young
Mainichi Shimbun, July 19

“Battleship Yamato” has young people overheated.
Yomiuri Shimbun, July 19

SF anime film Space Battleship Yamato to expand to Europe and the U.S.
Sports Nippon, July 21

The biggest hit of the summer.
Nikkan Gendai, July 21

Tragic giant ship, anime emerges.
Tokyo Shimbun, July 22

The Battleship Yamato Meets the Market Divide between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
Nikkan Gendai/Interesting Movies, Boring Movies, July 24

Space Battleship Yamato makes tremendous progress, and the movie industry undergoes dramatic changes
Daily Sports, July 27

Space Battleship Yamato, return of the “super mecha,” received by young people.
Yukan Fuji, July 30

TV re-runs and popularity explodes, rush to expand the movie
Nikkan Sports, July 31

Space Battleship Yamato draws attention with love for humanity, theme of human drama, and “SBY” drew a lot of attention.
Komei Shinbun/Movies, July 31

The secret popularity of SF in midsummer is its fantastic ideas.
Hochi Shimbun, July 31

Powerful SF adventure action
Mainichi Graph, July 31

Do you know this!? “Space Battleship Yamato will be an unforgettable work for me for the rest of my life,” says Leiji Matsumoto.
Young Comic, July 31

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