Chapter 7: The Birth of Anime Business

The New Stage of Consumer Culture that Gave Birth to Otaku

The Yamato boom of 1977 signaled Japan’s transition to a new stage of consumer society. At its core was a group of consumers who would later be known as “Otaku.”

Earlier, I mentioned that “consumption itself became a form of social participation” at this time. If this trend is promoted, consumption will lead to identity. Supporting Yamato became a form of identity. With Yamato as a representative example, new products and expressions emerged and redefined the cultural scene. Parco, DC Brand, Bikkuri House, YMO, etc. Osamu Hashimoto called such a state of affairs the “80-year Security Treaty.” It was a sign that the revolutionary passion that once raged had already subsided.

To capture the reality of Space Battleship Yamato, it is necessary to grasp the aspect of a consumption movement separate from evaluation of the work. The “Part 1” TV series was a dismal failure in the ratings race when it was first broadcast. However, even though it did not receive much attention, many people were convinced that a new form of expression had been born there. Even if you didn’t see all the individual works, you could still glean it from fragmentary information.

As for this author, I lost the channel battle and was forced to watch Girl of the Alps Heidi, a competitive program. Later, when I happened to see the Octopus Storm episode, I knew that my intuition, based on fragmentary information, was correct; it was “something new and expressive.”

In the 1970s, unlike today, anime and tokusatsu (live-action special effects) reruns were popular mainly in the evening hours. Their popularity was fostered not by a single broadcast, but by watching them over and over in reruns. The popularity of Yamato also expanded through reruns and became a boom. The flashpoint came from fans registering their votes by petitioning for reruns.

Reruns began in the Kansai region and performed well. In other words, they received high viewer ratings, which led to further re-runs and growing popularity. This boom was also a consumer movement created by fans, even though the efforts of the producer, Yoshinobu Nishizaki, were made under overwhelmingly unfavorable circumstances.

This consumer movement was also a major prelude to Otaku culture becoming more distinct and significant. The parent group of Otaku, or “fandom” in the parlance of the time, was undergoing a major transformation, incorporating a number of new elements. Originally centered on SF fans, the base expanded with the entry of manga fans. SF fans basically do not create secondary works. In other words, they do not adapt the original source material to create another story. Their activities are limited to the study (criticism) of SF novels and the writing of original novels. Their mode of behavior is as close as possible to that of literary doujin (magazines). Many of them are potential SF writers.

When it comes to manga fans, there is also an element of secondary creation. However, at this time, there were already excellent manga works (most of the classic manga masterpieces had been published). SF fans had Arthur C. Clarke and Stanislaw Lem, and for manga fans, there were Yoshiharu Tsuge and Moto Hagio. Some of the Moto Hagio fans, in particular, were active as the core of Gura-Kon, which later developed into Comiket. (Photos above from an early Comiket event.)

However, it is very rare for anime fans to create completely original anime works in the vein of manga doujinshi. Basically, we must talk about them in terms of consumption rather than criticism. With the rise of anime fans, who were complete consumers, fandom was transformed, and the “Otaku” were born.

Comiket, a symbol of Otaku culture, started in 1975. Without the entry of anime fans, Comiket wouldn’t have become a large scale and continuous event. This was not entirely due to the influence of Yamato. Anime fans seem to have been born with the appearance of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman and Triton of the Sea, both of which arrived in 1972, but they were few in number and lacked momentum. The outstanding Yamato was the catalyst for the establishment of anime fans, and the anime boom began with the Yamato boom.

A business model of fan retention

The Yamato boom was largely a spontaneous movement driven by consumer initiatives. However, it gradually became organized from above. This was the work of Yoshinobu Nishizaki, a producer who skillfully “harnessed” the enthusiasm of the fans and brought the film to theaters. His approach was, to put it in today’s terms, to “retain” the fan audience. Until then, movies and animated films had been focused solely on business with the masses. This was something new.

One example was the establishment of an official fan club at the end of the year when the Yamato movie was released. It was not just a source of official information as was often the case with rock band fan clubs. It was a mechanism to increase the sales per customer by making them more familiar with the product and turning them into heavier users, i.e., having them spend more money.

The fan club provided two types of information dissemination. The first was to convey the appeal of the existing product (Part 1), in depth. The second was to raise expectations by providing information on the next movie (and TV series) to be released in the near future. This was a strategy that skillfully utilized fan psychology.

The fan club magazine contained valuable illustrations to satisfy the desire for collecting. The anime magazine Animage debuted in 1978, but was critically lacking in the information Yamato fans wanted. It was impossible for a particular magazine to be biased toward information on a single work. Nishizaki’s method was to take advantage of this gap in supply.

His method was similar to the health food approach that is currently in circulation. Many companies have a membership system with a slogan like, “We will teach and deliver just to you.” Membership sales increase the premium and collection value of products, and provides customer attention that is not possible with mass merchandisers and manufacturers. The club magazine played a major role here.

Nishizaki was enthusiastic not only about publishing the magazine but also about selling premium products. He sold a three-volume Part 1 Complete Collection of Records book set by mail order for 30,000. That is still expensive today, but then it was even more so. His sales strategy later became a business model for anime. Mobile Suit Gundam also released such a collection.

However, there were also fans who were not drawn into this top-down organizaion. The Yamato fan club was closed following Final Yamato and the fading of boom. Nevertheless, unofficial fan clubs and fan circles continued their activities. Some of them became fans of other works, which led to further developments. For them, Yamato was only a passing point.

According to Nishizaki’s comment in the September issue of Weekly Bunshun (September-August 1977), there were 541 unofficial fan clubs, with a total of 60,000 members. By spring, six months later, the number had grown to 823.

In the past, the passivity of Otaku in simply absorbing information was criticized, but this is not accurate. Many fan clubs published journals called fanzines. Fan clubs and fans of other cultural genres were less active in this way. The number of fanzines for theater and manga, for example, was not comparable. Let’s take Yamato content as an example of the fanzines at that time.

The content could be roughly divided into two categories: (1) information dissemination and (2) creation/expression.

(1) “Information dissemination” seems to have played a complementary role to anime magazines and books, which were underdeveloped at the time. It was composed of primary data such as broadcast information, design materials, interviews with production staff, and information on the anime industry.

(2) “Creation/expression” includes the act of creating derivative works, i.e., adapting the original work to create a different story. For example, an independently created sequel called New Space Battleship Yamato.

Another main topic was world and setting studies/research. Weapons such as the Wave-Motion Gun, shipboard equipment, route maps, and even the tactics of the Gamilas were covered.

The introduction and discussion of major characters was also popular. The main character, Susumu Kodai, was often nicknamed the “terribly defective human being.” However, even though there was love for him, some took a somewhat skewed approach. There was also a column by Yoshikazu Aihara, who was popular despite his lack of exposure, entitled “Aihara-kun’s Communication Room.”

Surprisingly, however, not many fanzines discussed or commented on the works. Many simply played the role of enjoying the virtual world of Yamato. This also led to the transformation of fandom into Otaku. For fans at the time, Yamato was a realistic fiction that was more appealing than reality. Criticism may have been scarce.

Expanding the image of the work through multimedia

The novelty of Producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki’s commercial strategy was the use of multimedia as well as retaining fans to create heavy users.

This multimedia approach was first used with the movie The Inugami Clan, released in 1976. Kadokawa Shoten increased sales through the synergistic effect of the movie and the book. At about the same time this was happening Space Battleship Yamato brought the first full-fledged development of this method to anime.

The multimedia of Yamato can be divided into three main areas: print media, records, and plamodels. The anime products that had been produced up to that point included robot anime toys, theme songs and records for children, and magazines that tied in with TV broadcasts. However, the quality was not good.

The advent of Yamato expanded the target audience to upper elementary school students and above, and to extend the work with further development after the program had finished airing. The product quality was improved so they could function as stand-alone items without relying on the linkage effect. With these developments, the market for these products became vastly larger than for previous anime products. Nishizaki also revolutionized anime in terms of marketing. While working for Mushi Productions, he was involved in the development of Osamu Tezuka’s character products and the management of licensing rights. He used and developed his experience in this area.

The earliest Yamato product development was in print media.

At the time of the TV broadcast, the manga magazine Bouken Oh [Adventure King] carried a manga series by Leiji Matsumoto, and Terebiland carried one by Yuki Hijiri. It was not unusual for two creators to be in charge of writing parallel manga for magazines. Rather, the rarity was the appointment of Matsumoto, who had already built a certain career at that time, to create a tie-in manga.

At that time, magazine tie-ins were simply a focal point for linking with TV ratings. There was no attempt to convey the world of the work to the viewers. A six-month or one-year serialization in a magazine would not be enough to fully convey the content of the broadcast. In fact, only one volume of the Matsumoto version was published, and it was a digest version of the series.

However, Nishizaki separately authorized a three-volume manga version by Akira Hio, covering almost all of the content. To be precise, this was not based on the 26 episodes that aired, but the 39-episode plot that existed before the shortened broadcast. Therefore, the rebellion of Chairman Hyss and the plot in which Mamoru Kodai plays an active role as the space pirate Captain Harlock were included.

It is also a valuable text for understanding the original concept of Yamato. Starsha, the sole survivor of the planet Iscandar, blows up her own planet, taking Gamilas with her (as opposed to the TV show). This may have been Hio’s original interpretation.

Left: Space Battleship Yamato manga by Leiji Matsumoto (Akita Shoten, 1975). Although the content is similar to a digest, the Yamato written by Leiji Matsumoto has a special flavor.

Right: Space Battleship Yamato novelization by Arashi Ishizu, original story by Aritsune Toyoda (1975, Asahi Sonorama). The content is quite different from the anime, and there are some shocking scenes for fans.

It should be noted that this led to the first anime novelization, a 2-volume story written by Arashi Ishizu and originally conceived by Aritsune Toyoda. The first half was originally published in 1974 as The Fall of Earth Volume and the second half as The Revival of Earth Volume. Ishizu had previously written scripts for Mushi Productions’ Astro Boy, and may have been selected for the project because many of the members of Yamato staff came from Mushi Productions. It was the beginning of his career as a novelist.

The two volumes were combined and published as the first paperback collection from Asahi Sonorama, which had just been established on November 10, 1975. This was probably due to the positive response to the book.

Asahi Sonorama also published Yoshiyuki Tomino’s novelizations of Mobile Suit Gundam and Legendary Giant Ideon, Haruka Takachiho’s Crusher Joe series and Hideyuki Kikuchi’s Vampire Hunter D series, as well as foreign science fiction and war stories. Their lineup was basically light science fiction, and they were a pioneer of the light novels that are popular today. It is also interesting to note that the inspiration for this was Yamato.

Ishizu’s novelization was based on the second Yamato proposal mentioned earlier. It incorporated the SF idea that the Gamilas are actually artificial life forms created by a giant planetary computer called Starsha. The dark story is characterized by the deaths of most of the characters. Harlock also makes an appearance. It is juvenile SF with a high degree of perfection. This author has a paperback of the third edition published on December 1, 1975. It was reprinted three times within three weeks of its publication. (Read a complete translation of the novel here.)

The version by Leiji Matsumoto that appeared in Bouken Oh should, by its very origins, be the original. About 60 pages were added after the end of the serialization. However, the omissions are obvious, and the feeling that it is a “digest” cannot be removed. It does not make the best use of Matsumoto’s unique style.

The print media versions of Yamato are characterized by the fact that each story is different. I think this demonstrates that Nishizaki, who was in charge of the project, was not a storyteller. If Yamato was a tool for him to express his themes and thoughts, only the core elements of space roman and humanity’s escape from a crisis were important. The story itself may be unimportant. This attitude of his, based on theme and situations, is clearly visible in the sequels.

Hot-Blooded Novel Space Battleship Yamato (Office Academy,
1979), drafted by Yoshinobu Nishizaki and written by Hitomi
Takagaki. It is a rare book known only to core fans, but its contents
are quite readable.

There is another novel version of Part 1. In 1979, Hitomi Takagaki wrote Hot-blooded Novel Space Battleship Yamato. He was a master of adventure novels for boys, and cited Harunami Oshikawa’s Undersea Warship as the roots of his own work. It was mentioned earlier that Yamato inherits elements of juvenile adventure novels. In that sense, this novel was a natural result.

The title of the novel is “Hot Blood,” and the chapter titles bear this out: First defensive battle in space near Pluto. Two men storm the space fortress. All Yamato crewmembers unite in solidarity. Yuki Mori revives with artificial respiration of love.

Basically, the story is based on the TV series, but with a little Takagaki-style seasoning. The finale reads as follows:

This great global crisis has made mankind realize how harmful and stupid war is, and that mutual love among the four seas is the only way for human beings to prosper. There was no longer any need for unnatural divisions such as nations, and therefore no need for any military equipment at all. Our Space Battleship Yamato has also been disarmed.

And yet, the sublime spirituality displayed by the entire crew of Space Battleship Yamato in saving Earth from a great crisis is still evident in the fact that we, the entire human race, now have something called the “Yamato spirit,” and will use it as a guideline for human development for many years to come.

Takagaki’s novel seems to capture the core of the work surprisingly well.

In his analysis of Mitsuru Yoshida’s The Last Days of the Battleship Yamato, Shunsuke Tsurumi presented the two vectors of retrospection and expectation. This novel goes back to the prewar period and rereads the story of Yamato and the Battleship Yamato from the perspective of expectations, and connects them to a prayer for peace. Is this a task that could only be undertaken by the war generation?

In the print media versions of Yamato, a great effort seems to have been made to expand the image of the work. However, later printed works for the sequels were not so different from the films and TV series. This may be because Yamato became established and its images became fixed.

Yamato also ignited a new market for anime music

Yamato was also responsible for creating a new market for anime music. As with the print media projects, the purpose was to expand the image of the work. Let’s review the situation surrounding anime and music at that time.

Back then, toys accounted for the largest share of merchandising revenue for anime, followed by records. For example, the single for Girl of the Alps Heidi sold 1 million copies. Great Mazinger sold over 300,000 copies. The single for the Yamato theme song sold 850,000 copies (Merchandising Rights Report, March 1983). However, this was only for singles. Yamato was new in that it created a market for high-priced LP records in the anime genre.

One of the products that sparked the popularity of anime songs around the world was released in 1976 under the planning of Hidetoshi Kimura of Nippon Columbia. This was a four-disc set titled The History of Terebi Manga Theme Songs (pictured at left), which recorded sales of over 100,000 sets. At that time, no full-size anime album (LP) had ever achieved such a high level of sales. This was the beginning of a change in the sales structure.

Many of the fan letters that came to Nippon Columbia at that time asked for a reissue of the Yamato single. Kimura, who had suffered from dismal sales of the single during the TV broadcast, felt that the times were changing and decided to reissue it as a drama version.

This drama version, which was labeled as a soundtrack at the time, was released on July 25, 1977. Incidentally, the movie was released on the 6th of the following month. Just after a Yamato rerun finished in the Hokkaido area, it began to sell explosively at the Gyokkodo record store in Sapporo City. This spread throughout the country. (Hidetoshi Kimura, The Anime Song, Kadokawa Shoten, 1999). It remained at the top of the Oricon LP chart for six weeks from August 29 to October 3. A total of 150,000 copies were sold. Here, too, we can see the grassroots fan base supporting Yamato.

Interestingly, the English version was released on November 25. It was a drama version of Space Cruiser Yamato, which had been edited in Hollywood. Since it was dubbed in English, there was no way it would sell, objectively speaking, and in fact it did not sell well. However, I think this was part of the image strategy.

Before and after the release of Yamato, there was a lot of media attention paid to the fact that it was exceptionally popular overseas as a Japanese anime, or that it was a work that could be accepted overseas. This was not only to emphasize the topicality of the album, but also because Yoshinobu Nishizaki actively appealed to the public.

This was a strategy that worked to differentiate his work from many other anime. One example of this strategy was the movie pamphlet, which was written in both Japanese and English. If “Cool Japan,” which is currently being promoted by the media, is half meant to revitalize the domestic market, then Yamato can be said to be a pioneer in this field.

Symphonic Suite Space Battleship Yamato LP (CQ-7001, Nippon
Columbia). This is the most well-known Yamato record, and the gold
standard of anime music. It was also released on CD (COCC-12227).

Post-childhood high culture symphony

Symphonic Suite Space Battleship Yamato was released on December 25, 1977.

If the first strategy was to create an image of Yamato that was on par with Western sensibilities, the second strategy was to take a high culture route by targeting an older age group. Was it anime BGM? No, it was a symphony that would go down in history by using TV series BGM as image music.

The slogan on the obi read, “The great work is now completed as a symphonic suite!! The Swan Lake of the 20th century that presents dreams and roman to young people. A spectacle symphonic sound produced by the best staff that can never be reproduced again!”

In the liner notes, Yoshinobu Nishizaki and composer Hiroshi Miyagawa talk about each piece in the form of a dialogue. Miyagawa begins with the following words: “I’m sure you can understand the prestigious nature of this suite just by listening to the opening.” Nishizaki commented, “I would like to expand this disc in the image of a modern Swan Lake.”

Nishizaki further states, “I think that no matter how the times change, the essence of human nature in boys and girls does not change that much. And, by the way, classical music is not something you must listen to with intellect and education. It’s enough if you can feel it on your skin. I want young people today to enjoy the pleasure of a large symphony orchestra.”

This was probably intended to raise the value of Space Battleship Yamato by educating the public about the merits of symphonies. At the time, there was still a strong sense that anime was for children. There was a need to differentiate the brand by offering an upscale line. On the other hand, it can be said that this was only to raise the level of Yamato rather than anime itself, or to re-evaluate the value of anime.

What about the work itself, which had the ostentatious catchphrase “the Swan Lake of the 20th century”? I would say that the quality of the work was in line with the expectations and speculation that were swirling around Yamato at the time.

The overture is basically a medley of various background music, but by modulating and recomposing it, the whole has an organic unity.

The first piece begins with a quiet introduction by Silence of the Universe, followed by the most famous piece, The Infinite Expanse of the Universe with a full chorus for the scat. Then, various arrangements of the Yamato theme song are played, gradually building excitement and then returning to Infinite Expanse. When the chorus part is played, this melody swells and modulates in various ways, sometimes eerie, sometimes heroic. The climax of the piece is the prelude to the theme song.

The next piece, Birth, is more clearly a medley of Tragic Yamato, Silence of the Universe, and March of the Yamato Crew. It climaxes with the melody of the theme song.

Listening to the whole piece, it is not a pure symphony. The presence of the self-assertive melodies and rhythm is too conspicuous. However, the combination of the various elements and the wonderful melody make this album a masterpiece. It is said to have sold 750,000 copies.

With this success, collections of anime image music in the form of a symphony (suite or poem) became a business model. There were also many movies that started out with symphonic style music. For TV, there was Space Pirate Captain Harlock, Cyborg 009, Mobile Suit Gundam, Legendary Giant Ideon, Ultraman/Ultra Seven, and so on. Movies included Science Ninja Squad Gatchaman and Toward the Terra.

Gundam and Ideon were the first BGM albums to be released. The aim may have been to give them a second chance with a facelift. Aside from Captain Harlock, which was originally created in a symphony format, some of the separately-produced symphonic image albums were not of high quality. Symphony Ideon was excellent, but Symphonic Poem Gundam was not so good.

Gundam sold two types of albums: original BGM and an image album. In the case of Yamato, the original BGM was not released until much later, in 1981. This sales policy deprived fans of the enjoyment of hearing the original sound source, and was a detriment. Perhaps Nishizaki thought of music for listening as being separate from the music actually used on screen. This is why the music of Yamato was misunderstood as symphonic from the beginning.

The background music of “Part 1” had a kind of lightness to it, but as the series continued, the music became more profound. This was related to the transformation of the work. Nishizaki’s policy was carried over, albeit imperfectly, through Final Yamato. In addition, the album Immortal Space Battleship Yamato New Disco Arrange was released on the Polydor label as an image album.

The number of record releases related to Yamato was enormous. For Final Yamato, three music collections were released by Nippon Columbia and an original BGM collection was released later. An image album called Prelude to the Final (with a recitation by Nishizaki) was made in advance, and Tokuma Japan released two theme music collections containing only music used as BGM.

In total, there were seven albums. If one goes this far, one cannot escape the charge of being a profiteer. However, even with such a large number of products sold, some tracks were still not included. The large number of releases was also due to the fact that the company’s sales strategy was to target heavy users with a high sales price per customer.

On the other hand, the songs used throughout the series were selected from a wide range of popular artists, such as Kenji Sawada, Chiyoko Shimakura, Akira Fuse, Junko Yagami, and others. The appointment of mid-tier and big names in pop music was conspicuous. This was aimed at a high volume zone, targeting the general public. However, Isao Sasaki, who should be regarded as the signature voice of Yamato, sang in all the installments of the series.

The sound marketing team was considering ways to satisfy both the publicity effect (and the content of the films) and the sales strategy of the products. This was different from Yoshiyuki Tomino’s anime works, which used young female singers and focused on Otaku (young male fans).

The idea of a scale model for an anime plamo

Another pillar of Yamato‘s product development was mecha plamodels and diecast toys. Compared to print media and music, these were somewhat inferior in terms of both quantity and quality. Yoshinobu Nishizaki may not have attached much importance to them.

In 1974, the first plamodels were released by Bandai: Yamato, Cosmo Zero 52, Black Tiger, and Analyzer robot. The first three, however, had wheels on the bottom with a windup motor. They were supposed to be more than just for children. At the time, this author avoided purchasing them due to the windup motors.

Compared to the richness of variations in print media, at least at this point in time, mecha products such as plamodels were not the mainstream of Yamato merchandising. For Nishizaki, it is likely that plamodels were perceived as toys, and did not fit into his strategy of appealing to an older demographic.

In 1977, one month before the release of the movie, Yamato, Cosmo Zero, and Black Tiger were re-released. However, this Yamato did not come with a windup motor; it was called a Deform Display Model, which emphasized the bow to reproduce the in-flight appearance often seen on the screen.

The appeal was not only Yamato itself, but also Gamilas and the Earth Fleet. At this point, there was no commercialization of the mecha that played a supporting role. However, since there were many female fans of Yamato in its early days, it was not necessary to commercialize such mecha. It may not be a mistake to tailor product development in accordance with the clientele.

Farewell to Yamato was released in 1978. Around the time of the Yamato 2 broadcast, the development of plamodels also became more active. Yamato itself was available as a galaxy model, a model with a Teresa panel, and an image model. Of particular note was the 1/700 Mechanic Model. Until then, scales had been applied only to plamodels of real-world objects; this was the first example in anime. In other words, despite the fact that it was a fictional object, reality was emphasized. The Dessler Battleship and Cosmo Tiger II were scaled to 1/900 and 1/70, respectively.

However, the Yamato product line was composed mainly of ships. Unlike robots, the size of each ship was quite different. In order for the finished products to have matching sizes, the scale had to be changed for each of them. The mobile suits of Gundam, which were commercialized later, were almost the same size, so the idea of the scale model was used more effectively.

As Yamato became a series, the battle scenes became more intense, and the fan base changed so that the male viewers became more numerous. Under such circumstances, the importance of the plamodels in merchandising increased, and the lineup was enhanced.

The Yamato Mecha Collection, a series that went on sale in 1979, was priced at 100 yen per item. Compared to the previous products, the Mecha Collection was popular because of superiority in price, design reproduction, and assembly. Mecha that had only appeared in a few scenes, such as Okita’s ship and Zordar’s Super Giant Battleship, were also spotlighted. It was highly informative for fans. The lineup was commercialized through Yamato III with 30 kits in the series. However, it didn’t make sense that the Cosmo Hound and the Dessler gunship were commercialized while more popular mecha such as the first Dessler ship and the Automatic Planet Goruba did not appear.

Throughout the Yamato series, the Earth Defense Force has different ships for each work, and the enemies that appear also change every time. There is little sense of systematization in the mecha. The Gundam series, which was designed with a systematic focus from the start, has a more convincing worldview.

These Plamodels are not only excellent in design, but also demonstrate the systematic worldview behind the technology. This is why Yamato trailed behind Gundam in terms of plamodel products.

How was the Space Battleship Yamato movie received?

For Yamato fans, the boom based on the 1977 release of the movie was a kind of festival. It was not so much a matter of appreciation for the movie, but a reaffirming of what they were passionate about. The movie was, objectively speaking, not a work in itself, but simply a digest of the TV series. Due to budget limitations, it was basically a re-edited version of the TV footage. Only a few new scenes were inserted.

It was mentioned earlier that both the international and domestic versions of Space Battleship Yamato were made at the same time. The domestic version, made under Nishizaki’s initiative, was initially three and a half hours long. He approached a distributor with this version, but the distributor did not take him up on the offer. He asked Eiichi Yamamoto and Toshio Masuda to each edit a shorter version. When he previewed the two completed films, Yamamoto recommended Masuda’s version as better when viewed as a film. This is the version that was actually released to the public. Few people know what the longer version or the Yamamoto version were like. I wish I could have seen the Yamamoto version.

When the movie was first released, there was criticism from fans. It was not a question of quality. It was different from the TV series in that it featured a higher ratio battle scenes and had a different atmosphere.

The film begins with the famous narration about “The Infinite Universe,” but this narration does not appear in the TV series. It was restored from the pilot film, and footage from the pilot was also used.

In the first episode of “Part 1,” there is no narration explaining Earth’s situation until the middle of the episode. It begins from the micro perspective of the battlefield in front of the viewer, creating a sense of tension. Then, when the battle is over, a broader view is introduced for the first time.

In contrast, the movie starts with the broad viewpoint from the beginning. The destruction of Earth is depicted as an “insignificant” event in the universe. This means that the entire film is told from a transcendental perspective. As a result, the sense of urgency and realism of the human drama recedes. The roman and fantasy aspects of the universe come to the fore.

[Translator’s note: again, the word “roman” in this context is not a reference to Rome, nor is it a Japanese word for “romance” as understood in Western culture. It is evocative of romantic adventure fantasy without being synonymous with either adventure or fantasy.]

It is true that not all 26 episodes could be included in the limited time of 2 hours and 10 minutes. However, the growth and trials of Susumu Kodai, a life-size hero, were diminished due to the movie’s approach, and we lost a lot because of that.

The movie is based on the roman of the universe, and progresses through the Pluto battle, Yamato‘s launch, warp test, Wave-Motion Gun test firing, Pluto invasion, the Orion star, the battle of the Rainbow Cluster, and the decisive battle at Gamilas. Character-driven moments, such as the farewell to Earth and the excitement at seeing the large Magellanic nebula, are inserted only a few times.

However, there is also a scene that captures the feelings of fans. Okita dies, and the crew, unaware of it, is excited by the impending return to Earth. The young men and women in the background, who are in high spirits when we hear the Yamato theme, are not military personnel, but are the “young people” of the time (1977). This is the image of fans rejoicing at the festival called “the Yamato movie.” The scene, which is not in the TV series, is a kind of fan service.

I mentioned military personnel earlier. In the movie, it is very clear that Kodai is a soldier who graduated from the Space Soldier Training School. In other words, the fact that he is a soldier is clearly stated for the first time here. This was left ambiguous at the time of the broadcast.

Since a movie has a limited amount of time, the filmmakers probably tried to make it clearer. As a result, the image of Yamato as a warship rather than an expedition ship was strengthened.

The sequel emphasized the excitement of entertainment

An opportunity was created to respond to fan criticism of the Yamato movie. On midnight of December 1 of the same year, SF Drama Space Battleship Yamato was aired live as a special program on Nippon Broadcasting System’s All Night Nippon radio show.

The program was originally conceived by Osamu Ueno (a.k.a. Don Ueno), director of Nippon Broadcasting Corporation. In the days when radio was hotter than it is today, he planned a four-hour live radio drama titled House (based on a movie directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi). It was an industry-breaking project that attracted a lot of attention. This was the third project of its kind. (Osamu Ueno, Mister Radio Passes, Jitsugyo no Nihonsha, 1986).

The Yamato radio drama was scripted by Keisuke Fujikawa and consisted of four parts, lasting about two hours. Almost all of the voice actors who were cast in the anime appeared in the program. The four-hour show was performed with breaks for interviews and other features. Leiji Matsumoto’s name did not appear in the narration of the staff credits, and it is said that he was reluctant to appear during the broadcast. The background music included the Symphonic Suite, which had not been released yet.

This drama took advantage of the characteristics of radio, framed as the diary of Susumu Kodai. Although it had the drawback of omitting the depictions of other characters, the psychological drama of Susumu Kodai, the main pillar of Yamato, was more than adequately presented. It was a response to the fans’ dissatisfaction.

The anxiety before the launch, the distrust of Okita, trust after the ice melts, the introverted boyhood, his longing for space, the desire to be a captain, the honor of becoming acting captain, the elation of seeing Iscandar, the love he felt for Yuki Mori…by following the inner life of Susumu Kodai along the voyage, it also had the effect of evoking relationships with the other crew members on this epic space trip.

For example, when reaching Iscandar, Susumu Kodai writes the following in his diary:

“April 5, 2200 AD. I’m writing this diary from my seat on the first bridge. It’s almost dawn. Beyond the window, a bright red sunrise is gradually spreading, little by little. The great historical moment is definitely in front of Yamato. All we have to do is reach out and grab it.”

“Everyone is too excited to sleep. Even when we don’t have anything to do, we hang around the first bridge. Three times as chatty as usual, gossiping about the planet. No, no, no. I have so much to do. I can’t even write in this diary.”

If the movie had this flavor, I think the flow of Yamato after this would have been different.

With the movie’s success, Nishizaki began to think of a sequel. In doing so, his attention was focused on Susumu Kodai denouncing violence in Part 1. Even if the enemy challenges with violence, Yamato resists with violence. This is a contradiction. For Kodai, the only way to resolve it was to awaken to greater love and self-sacrifice. This is what Nishizaki thought. This was why Farewell to Yamato ended with Yamato‘s “suicide attack.” However, this was also an overstatement of the theme.

Looking at the newspaper campaigns of the time, there were two patterns in the Farewell advertisements.

The first was the rear view of Yamato and the silhouette of Kodai and Yuki Mori. “With eternal love and roman, Yamato is finally going beyond the universe where the final battle awaits”.

The other was an image of Emperor Zordar and his troops and fleet in front of the city empire. “The White Comet Empire, an enemy of unimaginable size, has appeared!”

The two patterns are the tragic love between hero and heroine, and the powerful appeal of a scaled-up enemy. The dynamism of battle and the pathos of love are the two patterns of the story. From this point, it is easy to imagine that the story will end tragically. In other words, it is not only a matter of thematics, but also Nishizaki’s intention to create a tragic ending as an entertaining climax to the story.

Nishizaki’s aim was right on target. Before dawn on opening day, about 1500 fans lined up at the Shibuya Tokyu Rex. The screening was moved up to 6:00 a.m. The miracle of 1977 was recreated in an expanded form.

More than 500,000 advance tickets were sold. The final box-office record was 4.3 billion yen. The previous year’s movie, which was broadcast on Fuji TV the night before Farewell‘s release, recorded a 31.9% viewership rating. At that moment, the boom was at its peak.

However, the story depicted in “Part 2” was not as detailed as that of “Part 1.” The sharpness and life-size charm of the hero Susumu Kodai receded. If it was Nishizaki’s intention to create a dramatic effect for the sake of story, there may have been a subtle difference from the thoughts of his fans.

In the TV broadcast of Yamato 2 in the same year, Susumu Kodai and Yamato returned to life. From there, the TV special The New Voyage, the movie Be Forever Yamato, and the TV series Yamato III followed, along with the movie Final Yamato. Over time, Yamato‘s popularity declined.

In the meantime, the leading anime of the era were Galaxy Express 999 directed by Rin Taro, Mobile Suit Gundam directed by Yoshiyuki Tomino, and Lupin III Cagliostro Castle directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Even with its final film, Yamato did reasonably well at the box office, but its role as the driving force of the times had been overtaken by others.

What “Part 1” lost, however, may have been expressed by other films in a more sophisticated form.

Moving into a new era: the emergence of anime films and anime magazines

The Yamato boom triggered a new trend in anime.

First came the maturation of the anime film genre. If you think anime films started with Space Battleship Yamato, that is not accurate. By then, there had been The Great Adventure of Horus, Prince of the Sun (1968) for children and One Thousand and One Nights (1967) for adults.

In the 1970s, as the anime market matured, events such as the Toei Manga Festival were held. Joint screenings of medium-length original anime shorts and TV anime became a valuable source of income for film companies. However, from the general public’s point of view, such works could not be appreciated or shown as stand-alone productions. They were perceived as second-rate or lower.

In such an era, Yamato was an achievement that established the box office for original feature-length anime films. Subsequent years brought Science Ninja Team Gatchaman and Lupin Vs. The Clone (1978), Galaxy Express 999, Star Orpheus, Aim for the Ace!, Girl of the Alps Heidi and Cagliostro Castle (1979), Toward the Terra, Phoenix 2772, Cyborg 009 Super Galaxy Legend, and 3,000 Miles in Search of Mother (1980), and Mobile Suit Gundam, Gundam II, Adieu Galaxy Express, Space Warrior Baldios, and The Legend of Sirius (1981).

A good percentage of these films were re-edited versions of TV series, and there were many problems in terms of quality. Some, like Galaxy Express 999 and Mobile Suit Gundam, were successful in terms of both quality and box office while others, such as Aim for the Ace! and Cagliostro Castle, were among the best in terms of visual expression at the time, but failed at the box office.

Another major impact of Yamato on the industry was the birth of anime magazines. In 1977, as the anime market was booming, Hideo Ogata of Tokuma Shoten launched the “Roman Album” book series as a separate volume to the children’s TV magazine Terebiland. The first issue was Space Battleship Yamato.

Ogata had a plan for anime media for older readers, but the level of understanding among the company and its distributors at the time held that it was too early to launch an anime magazine as a stand-alone publication.

“As an intermediate step toward the launch of an anime magazine, we published a Terebiland Separate Volume and secretly added the title “Roman Album” to it. It was released on August 27, recording a first printing of 100,000 copies, and was almost completely sold out by the 10th day after its release. By September 1978, the total number of copies had reached 400,000. Later, the same book was sold under a different name as ‘Animation Extra’.” (Hideo Ogata, Shoot that flag!, Okura Publishing, 2004)

[Translator’s note: read two chapters from Hideo Ogata’s book here.]

With Yamato‘s success as momentum, he launched Animage magazine on May 26, 1978. The cover sported a silver-colored Yamato. The first page was a report on Farewell, which was to be released two months later.

Incidentally, at this time, there was already a magazine called OUT that focused on anime. It still had a character somewhere between anime and a culture magazine, and later it completely shifted to anime.

There were four main policies for Animage magazine: (1) To provide more information as a specialized magazine targeting the younger generation, (2) to be a visual magazine with a smart atmosphere, (3) emphasis on the idol quality of voice actors, and (4) actively welcoming reader contributions and other forms of participation.

As you can see from this policy, Animage had the character of an anime information magazine, and did not place much emphasis on criticism of works.

Unlike Animage, OUT and the later Monthly Animation both focused on criticism. In a sense, they had the characteristics of subculture magazines of the 1960s. However, such a stance was not strongly supported, and they were forced to cease publication (though OUT lasted into the 1990s). The absence of criticism in the anime industry even today can be traced back to those days. Only the consumption of works was emphasized between the sender and receiver.

The virtual enemy is Yamato!

Yoshiyuki Tomino, the director of Mobile Suit Gundam, described his first impression of Animage:

“My initial impression was not good. The cover of the first issue was Space Battleship Yamato. I was frustrated because I thought that if the first issue had been published six months later, Gundam would have been the cover picture. I was proud that Mr. Yasuhiko’s film would have been suitable for the first issue of the magazine. But there’s no way I could consider an editorial staff with no discernment for such things to be of any good quality.” (Hideo Ogata, Shoot that flag!, Okura Shuppan, 2004)

The birth of Gundam owed much to the background of the times brought about by Yamato. It didn’t affect the work itself, but the marketing success of Yamato was applied, and an innovative work called Gundam was created.

At that time, Nippon Sunrise (now Sunrise) had an unstable business foundation, and the performance of each production was a major factor in the company’s business. In order to earn a stable income, it is necessary to have a good reputation as a company. In other words, brand power. The brand power of an animation company comes from its signature work. At that time, however, Sunrise did not yet have any such work. Let us look at a comment by Masao Iizuka, who was in charge of planning at the time:

“The goal was not to sell robot products, but to promote the Sunrise name itself. To achieve this, we needed to create a program that would leave a strong impression on everyone. I thought it was necessary to make a work like a full-length Taiga Drama. At the time, there was already a precedent inSpace Battleship Yamato (1974).” (Gundam Company, Web Gendai Gundam Reporting Team, Kodansha, 2002).

However, Sunrise did not want Gundam to only increase its name recognition. Eiji Yamaura, who was Sunrise’s planning department manager at the time, said, “We all analyzed why Yamato was such a hit. As a result, we came to the conclusion that if we could focus on a high target and capture 300,000 to 400,000 enthusiastic fans, it would be enough to be commercially viable.” (Eiji Yamaura comment, Gundam Age, Yoizensha, 1999).

It was touched on earlier that Yamato was created with an older target audience in mind than previous anime attracted. In order to appeal to older viewers, the content had to be more sophisticated. In the case of robot anime, if the main plot is simply to defeat an enemy every time, it will not be worth the effort to watch. Attracting older generations was not done just to increase the number of customers, it was because they had more wealth. If Sunrise targeted the older generation, they could develop not only toys, but also records, visual books, novels, and various other products.

Until then, robot anime was not a self-sustaining business. Only revenue from toy sales could balance the total expenditure. One solution to this was that movie production alone could be profitable, and the other was that a variety of products could be profitable. Yamato presented such a profit structure.

“When I started the Gundam project, I was determined to bring down Yamato, even if I had to use a robot. This was because I rightfully regarded Yoshinobu Nishizaki as a worthy rival. Therefore, to this day I regret that I was not able to match Yamato‘s audience turnout. I will do it someday! That feeling will never go away.” (Yoshiyuki Tomino, So I am…, Tokuma Shoten, 2002 edition).

Gundam, a later work, corrected the flaws or shortcomings of Yamato and evolved it. For example, Yamato confined its drama almost exclusively to outer space and the ship’s interior. In Gundam, the White Base descends to Earth, where it encounters and interacts with enemy soldiers and local residents. In order to attract children, the focus was on slightly older boys and girls, rather than adults. In addition to depicting the military organization behind the White Base, they also included a supply element to give a sense of reality to the military actions.

Whereas Yamato was battered and bruised and could be repaired in a matter of hours or days, White Base was not. White Base is depicted in a natural way, with equipment malfunctioning, ammunition running out, and so on. The setting of the story is also limited to the Earth sphere, so there are no leaps and bounds, and there is more reality. However, this may be a matter of taste, since it also leads to a scale-down.

In later years, the sequels Mobile Suit Z Gundam and Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ replaced the main characters but firmly followed the setting of the previous work and carried on the story in a natural way. As a result, the entire series has the feel of a Taiga drama. This is something that the Yamato series could not do because of its lack of consistency. By creating new works continuously, the deterioration of the image can be minimized (i.e., it does not get old), and remain profitable over a long period of time.

However, the mass production of sequels has given rise to the phenomenon of “Gundam content.” The classic concept of a work of art/appreciation/criticism collapsed, and the works lost their autonomy as individual expressions. Now the recent trend seems to be that these works are merely made for media development and consumption. This is true of not just Gundam. I wonder what is happening with that.

As we saw earlier, Susumu Kodai in “Part” 1 has an autistic element in that he builds walls between himself and others. This appealed to a kind of minor orientation possessed by Otaku. This appeal was carried over to other works, and was expressed in the form of rather morbid characters such as Amuro in Gundam and Chirico in Votoms. This is not a matter of imitation, but rather a historical demand by Otaku for such protagonists.

This pathological character seemed to reached its extreme with Shinji Ikari in Neon Genesis Evangelion. Gundam had an openness in its worldview as an ensemble drama or a historical drama, while Evangelion has a closed narrative structure with a closed protagonist and a very limited situation. Director Hideaki Anno is known for his devotion to Yamato. The world structure of Evangelion is also influenced by this. When it comes to Shinji Ikari, it becomes quite perverted to enjoy and consume his pathology.

There are several homages to Yamato in Anno’s work. Evangelion‘s Operation Yashima (Episode 6), which gathers energy from all over Japan to defeat the enemy, may be an imitation of the situation in “Part 1,” Episode 3 and the powerup of the ship.

In the 36th episode of Nadia and the Secret of Blue Water, we revisit the second episode of Yamato in which Susumu Kodai and Daisuke Shima board the ship and fire the main guns to destroy a Gamilas fast aircraft carrier. The camera angles and the sound effects of the main gun were borrowed from the original source. For a while, there was talk of a remake project of Yamato Part 1 by Hideaki Anno.

Although Yamato is a spaceship, it was modified from the battleship Yamato. The bridge rises in a tower shape above the deck like a maritime ship.

Until a certain point in time, a significant percentage of science fiction anime would follow this form, including Gundam. This is a completely different design system from American science fiction, undoubtedly the influence of Yamato.

One of the most appealing features of the Yamato series is the space fleet battles, but since the majority of SF anime is robot anime, there are few anime that offer this experience. One of the few exceptions to this rule is Legend of the Galactic Heroes, directed by Noboru Ishiguro, who also directed Yamato.

Producer Masatoshi Tahara said, “I wanted to show this film to the people who loved Yamato. I wanted to make it for that generation.” (Legend of the Galactic Heroes Reader, edited by Light Staff, Tokuma Shoten, 1997)

The design of the ships is not a maritime type, but an evolved and refined one. The exhilaration of battle and the desire for peace, the courage and loyalty shown by the soldiers, are interspersed with epic space fleet battles. This is certainly a successor to the worldview of Yamato.

Yang Wen-li, one of the two main characters, was voiced by Kei Tomiyama, who also portrayed Susumu Kodai. Yang and Kodai seem to be opposites, but they constantly shift in the midst of battle, and sometimes they even show their darker sides. Yang is a big tea drinker. Somewhat surprisingly, Kodai also seems to like tea, as seen in the fourth episode of Yamato III.

How Yamato is loved as the pioneer of Cool Japan

Cool Japan, Japanimation, and the expansion of Japan into foreign countries (mainly America) are widely talked about.

The pioneer of this trend was Tetsuwan Atom, which was the first TV anime born in Japan. According to Millennial Monsters by Anne Allison (Shinchosha, 2010), the most popular early Japanese anime and tokusatsu in America were Godzilla (movies), Astro Boy (Tetsuwan Atom) Speed Racer (Mach GoGoGo), and Star Blazers (Yamato).

The first overseas appearance of Yamato, including in the U.S., was the one hour and 38 minute film Space Cruiser Yamato. However, this was a limited release and was not well remembered by the public. The name of the enemy was partially changed to the Gorgon Empire, but some of the character’s names were kept in their original form. For example, Juzo Okita, Dr. Sado, and Yuki Mori were retained. Susumu Kodai was replaced by Jason Kodai, Daisuke Shima was Shane O’Toole, and Shiro Sanada was Samuelson. The Gorgon enemies remain the same as before: Dessler, Domel, and Hyss.

“Part 1” was produced along with Yamato 2 by Westchester Films of America when they acquired the broadcasting rights in 1978. Broadcasting began on local networks in 1979. However, the title was changed to Star Blazers, a name that seems to have no meaning.

As for the characters, Susumu Kodai is Derek Wildstar, Shima is Mark Venture, Yuki Mori is Nova, Okita is Avatar, and Dessler is Desslok. However, Gamilas was changed to Gamilon, and Iscandar and Starsha were left unchanged.

However, when the Japanese anime of this period was imported to the U.S., not only the characters but also the stories themselves were often changed. The popular Robotech series combined Macross, Southern Cross, and Mospeada, and was made into an original story with only the visuals retained. Battle of the Planets (Gatchaman) changed the story so that the protagonists were not sent to different parts of the world every week, but to different planets. Battle scenes were also replaced because they were considered too violent.

The first Gundam film was altered to a war with aliens instead of Earthlings, a change that earned such a bad reputation that Gundam missed its chance to make a full-scale entry into the North American market. In America, Gundam is usually associated with Gundam Wing, in which beautiful young boys dance wildly.

Compared to this misfortune, it could be said that Yamato still aired under favorable circumstances. The name was changed to English so that it would fit the American audience. All elements reminiscent of Japan were removed, but the story was left basically unchanged. In the U.S., the story was subject to strict broadcast codes for violence and sexually explicit material, and any parts that violated such guidelines were altered.

Scenes in which human beings die were deleted. Analyzer’s skirt-lifting was also deleted. In the original battle of the Rainbow Cluster, Domel blows himself after bringing his ship close to Yamato at the end of the battle. However, this part was changed to placing a bomb on Yamato‘s hull. By reversing footage, Domel’s ship is clearly seen breaking away from the bottom of Yamato.

After the original battle on Gamilas, Susumu Kodai realizes the tragedy of the battle and regrets his actions. However, the scene was boldly edited to merely depict him in a stunned state, as if there is no hint of carnage.

The narration of Earth’s situation in the first episode, which begins in the latter half, was placed at the beginning of the episode, probably because it was deemed difficult to understand.

The energy filling rate is 100%, not 120%.

However, some inconsistencies and strange points in the main story were corrected.

In Yamato Episode 10, Yuki Mori’s mother recommends that her daughter meet an engineer of an underwater city. This was changed to an engineer of an underground city. As a child, I wondered about an underwater city in the dried-up sea.

Incidentally, the part of the story where the old battleship Yamato is remodeled, which is the basis of the story, remained unchanged. However, the name of the ship was changed after the remodeling. The new name is Argo, and the name of the unit is Star Force, despite having a single ship. Avatar (Juzo Okita) is the captain of the Argo and the commander of the Star Force unit. Perhaps this is a more accurate description given the way the military operates. Desslok (Dessler) refers to Yamato exclusively as Star Force, not Argo.

The generation that saw the first broadcast of Star Blazers is now around 40 years old. Like the Japanese, they seem to feel nostalgia for the series on Youtube and other sites. The Wave-Motion Gun is also popular among them. But more than the action and the reality of the story, they seem to be impressed by the drama that was carefully developed over 26 episodes. Japanese people are the same in that they are impressed by the emotional aspect of the story.

One of the most popular episodes is Episode 10, the farewell to the solar system. Many people favorably comment that it is a well-crafted story. Fans were moved by the loneliness shown by Derek Wildstar (Susumu Kodai).

Desslok’s (Dessler) voice is effeminate, and his character has been changed to seem a little perverted. However, the fact that he does not have the low voice of a stereotypical villain was well received by the audience, along with the legitimate ideals he fights for.

The music is still by Hiroshi Miyagawa. Many people cite the music as a reason for liking the work.

Although there are numerous alterations, they are only superficial. The core of Yamato was well-received in America. In 1983, Dallas was the site of Yamato Con. The official Star Blazers website is more extensive and has deeper content than any fansite in Japan. Here, you can enjoy original audio drama sequels set after Final Yamato, which they created on their own initiative.

[Translator’s note: what an honor and a delight to reach the end of this chapter and find the author talking about this very website! When his book was published in 2010, this was still the “official Star Blazers website,” operating under the American office of Voyager Entertainment. That changed when I took it over in 2013, but all the material referenced above can still be found.]

Read about the 1983 Yamato Con here

Find the original audio dramas here

Return to the index

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *