Yamatalk Night 4 Report

by Gwyn Campbell

The fourth Yamatalk was held at Shinjuku Picadilly Cinema on Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013. Now that we had officially arrived at the halfway mark of Yamato 2199, it seemed only fitting that we had a very special guest. Two, in fact! Whether due to conflicting schedules, fan requests, or just the fact that so many people had been applying for the limited number of available Yamatalk tickets at previous events, Yamatalk 4 was split into two separate events, one on January 22 and the other on January 25. The latter included veteran artist/designer Naoyuki Katoh. I decided to try for January 22 tickets, since the special guest was none other than Hideaki Anno, perhaps best known as the creator and director of Neon Genesis Evangelion.

I sure wasn’t the only one interested in hearing what the director of Evangelion had to say about Yamato 2199 though; tickets were much more difficult to get than usual. But get one I did, and on January 22 I found myself dashing over to the Picadilly after work to see two of the greatest directors in SF anime on stage together.

Unlike previous guests, Anno’s involvement with the production of Yamato 2199 was decidedly more limited in scope. His role, while important, was limited to storyboarding the opening title sequence. As a result, the talk show was less about production details and more about Yamato in general.

After a repeat viewing of Chapter 4, the talk show started off with regular MC Osamu Kobayashi stating outright, to much Laughter from the audience, that the talk would be about Yamato 2199 and not certain other movies that might currently be screening (*cough* Evangelion *cough*).

MC: Can you tell us about your first ever Yamato experience?

Anno: It was from the initial broadcast of the original series. I missed episode 1, so I started watching from episode 2.

Izubuchi: The same as me! (Laughter)

Anno: I watched episode 2 and was surprised by it, so from Episode 3 I started recording the shows on audio cassette tape. I told my parents that I wanted it [a tape recorder] for studying English. (Laughter)

Izubuchi: Just the same as me! (Laughter) Although I couldn’t do it for the first broadcast, so I recorded it from the first rerun.

Anno: That was too late! (Laughter)

Izubuchi: But yeah, it was the same for me. I lied to my parents and said I was going to study English. Well, I intended to study English but it didn’t happen. In those days salesmen would still actually come to the house. And one day I saw a recorder that I wanted, and while I did have some intention to study, I ended up using it to record the audio from Yamato. I also took some photographs of the screen.

Anno: I wasn’t able to get any pictures, but that’s Izubuchi for you! (Laughter)

Izubuchi: Did you listen to the audio before going to bed?

Anno: Absolutely.

Izubuchi: It was like learning through hypnosis. (Laughter)

Anno: Yes, I remember most of the dialogue.

MC: (to Anno) what was it about episode 2 that had such an impact on you?

Anno: I think it was one of the ships. I recalled seeing something similar in old books. Also, the show had a sense of adventure. My younger sister and parents used to watch Girl of the Alps Heidi on the family TV, but we had an old black and white second set. We weren’t that well off, and had held on to this old TV set…

MC: So you watched each week by yourself? In black and white?

Anno: Yes, on the opposite side of the room, using headphones.

MC: So you had that TV just for the sake of watching Yamato?

Anno: Well, you could say that. Although it was black and white.

MC: In other words, you watched the original broadcast in black and white?

Anno: Only until Heidi ended. After that I got to watch in color. (Laughter)

Izubuchi: When Yamato started reruns–well, the only way we were able to see it from episode 1 was in reruns, right? In order to watch it I had to really dash home after school, often only just making it. I think I was in a school sports/activity club at one point, but I quit [to watch Yamato], probably.

MC: (to Anno) How about you?

Anno: I quit afterschool activities. So after school, the first area to start reruns of Yamato was a station in Fukuoka Prefecture. I lived in Yamaguchi Prefecture, but I had a friend whose house was just within reception range, so I used to visit his house every day to watch. That was the only chance I had to watch the rerun. So both of us had to leave right when school finished and would make it to his house just in time.

He had also just gotten a Betamax recorder, so I managed to get him to record it. But we could only skim over it because otherwise we couldn’t tape the next episode. Being in Yamaguchi, in the sticks, we didn’t really get any reruns. They also broadcast reruns in Shimane Prefecture, so I visited relatives in Shimane to watch it. (Laughter)

MC: But you weren’t going there every day, surely?

Anno: At that time they were broadcasting episodes every day, so I went and stayed at my relatives’ place.

MC: Wow, you were pretty active!

Anno: Well, it was for Yamato.

MC: So, to do all that as a young boy, Yamato must have had a great impact on you.

Anno: Yes it did.

MC: I wonder what was so different about it compared to other shows.

Izubuchi: The design, visuals, drama, all combined. I suppose in terms of drama there had been drama in shows that preceded Yamato, so I’d have to say it was the visuals. That mechanical design and level of detail in an era where all we usually got were “space rockets.”

Anno: Especially Cut No.11 in the opening. (Laughter) That was…

Izubuchi: Well, we managed to recreate it.

Anno: No we didn’t! (Laughter). Actually I really wanted to do more of the opening animation.

Izubuchi: There’s no way you could have! Since you were also working on that [other production].

Anno: No, I tried to arrange things so that I could.

Izubuchi: Really? I hadn’t heard that.

Anno: Yeah, I really tried. But in the end, something else came in from Sunrise.

MC: Moving on, I’d like to ask what sort of influence you think you received from Yamato.

Anno: Eighth-grade Syndrome. (Laughter) Although I heard that Izubuchi was watching it while in the second year of Senior High. You did pretty good to watch it while in Senior high. (Laughter) How about Triton of the Sea?

Izubuchi: I would have been in 8th grade.

Anno: It was pretty good, wasn’t it? I was in elementary school.

Izubuchi: I was in Ozomichi [in Hiroshima] with my family when TVK was playing Triton reruns. So I traveled, alone, all the way from Hiroshima to Kanagawa in order to catch the episode and record it on Betamax.

MC: That’s amazing. I don’t know what to think.

Anno: We were otaku. (Laughter)

MC: So you hadn’t set the VCR to record?

Izubuchi: No, I had to do it myself. There was a technique to cutting out commercials. There was a way of pressing the switch that would cut the recording cleanly. VHS was no good. The reaction speed was too slow. But Beta was faster. Why did Beta lose [the format war]? (Laughter and thunderous applause)

MC: (to Anno) When did you first meet Izubuchi?

Anno: We met here and there at parties and stuff, then there was some sort of trigger one time and we started talking about Yamato. And the talk got pretty heated. “Yamato has to be like THIS!” “No, that’s wrong!” etc. And so, we became friends.

MC: So, you could say that you became friends because of Yamato?

Izubuchi: Yes. It would have been around the time I was working on Patlabor.

MC: While both of you work in the same field, when it comes to Yamato, are your favorite episodes and gimmicks different?

Both: Yes

MC: It’s known that Izubuchi is partial to Gamilas.

Anno: I’m more into the Yamato side

MC: So I suppose you could say your differences start from there.

Izubuchi: Please don’t misunderstand! It’s not that I only like Gamilas! (Laughter)

MC: So, how about favorite characters like, say, Kodai?

Anno: I like Captain Okita

Izubuchi: When it comes to characters, I’d have to say Dessler. I always liked his character but never understood why he became more of a samurai-like character after Farewell.

MC: that’s right, his character changed. (to Anno) What is it about Captain Okita that you like?

Anno: I think it was because he was an adult.

MC: So you weren’t all that interested in Kodai the main character?

Anno: Kodai was… well… his personality was kind’a messed up, don’t you think? (Laughter) If you look at the ending credits of the show, Okita’s name is displayed first, so I thought of him as the main character.

MC: (to Izubuchi) You’ve also said something similar in the past.

Izubuchi: Yes. So when he dies, well, the show loses its main character.

MC: So this is why the 1st series is so important?

Izubuchi: Well, it wasn’t just that, but it was an important factor. Which is one of the reasons I found Final Yamato difficult to forgive. I was like, are you serious? (Laughter)

Anno: Yeah. And he was like a robot, right? I actually saw Final Yamato on opening day. With [anime director] Noboru Ishiguro.

Izubuchi: Really? With Ishiguro?? (Laughter)

Anno: Yeah, I was pretty happy.

Izubuchi: Regarding Director Noboru Ishiguro, he was looking forward to it (Yamato 2199). He fell ill, and then at one point his illness went into regression and I went to a party that we held to celebrate. When I spoke with him he said, “I’m really looking forward to it.” I really wish he could have seen it. I really do.

MC: (to Anno) Speaking of Yamato 2199, you did the storyboarding for the opening credits, correct?

Anno: Yes.

MC: So, Izubuchi offered you this opportunity?

Izubuchi: It was more like, “Won’t you help out with something?” The idea was that I wanted people who had experienced the opening of the original series [when it aired] to be involved. But as you know, Anno was involved with his other project, so we weren’t sure if he would be able to do anything. But since it was just the opening…

Anno: Originally I wanted to do it exactly the same as the original.

Izubuchi: Yes, and of course I understood. But if we did that, no one would see the new characters. So the idea was to slip the new characters in here and there to introduce them. Well, that was the plan, but it seemed like it would be the same as Gundam, with the way all the crew of the White base were shown.

Anno: So a lot of it was like the original after all.

MC: Including the opening song.

Izubuchi: Yes, that was important. If we didn’t use it, then I don’t think Anno would have accepted the job. Also, for me personally, it was important to have the original song with Isao Sasaki singing it.

MC: If you had had the time to do more than just the opening, is there any part in particular that you would have liked to work on?

Izubuchi: If he hadn’t been busy with Evangelion, I would have asked him to come on board so we could work on Yamato 2199 together with Anno as director. But it’s not like there was ever an official offer when Yamato 2199 was being planned. It’s just the way we always imagined it when we used to talk about it back in the day.

Anno: Yeah, it’s not like I’m actually that involved (Laughter)

MC: So you would have liked to have been more involved?

Anno: Well, if I was, I would have completely redone the first two chapters (Laughter)

MC: Ah, so you would have focused on something else?

Anno: Well, to be frank, it gets good when the Gamilas Empire comes into the picture. But the stuff within the Solar System would have been better if I had done it. (Laughter) Chapter 3 was great! But we could go back and forth like this for ages.

Izubuchi: I get the feeling you’re picking on me.

Anno: I am! (Laughter) But seriously, do the Yamato side [of the story] more seriously.

Izubuchi: I am!

Anno: It’s nowhere near enough. It needs more love [put into it].

Izubuchi: When Anno first looked at it early on, he picked up automatically on all the bits we had cut or left out. The staff said, “we can’t add 40 minutes of that into a TV episode!” (Laughter)

Anno: No, it would’ve been ok. There’s 26 episodes, after all.

Izubuchi: (Laughs) That may be so, but I’m thinking of the overall balance.

Anno: No, you shouldn’t think about the balance. (Laughter) Maybe you should have started with Gamilas from episode 1.

Izubuchi: If I did that, the show would have become something else completely.

Anno: perhaps that would have been good, in its own way.

Izubuchi: If we had done Gamilas first, the story flow would be reversed. You’d find it easier to accept as something else?

Anno: No, I really like 2199. It’s not like I’m complaining, honestly. 2199 is Izubuchi’s Yamato, and you can feel all the love he has put into it. He has added everything that was lacking in the original. He is fulfilling the dreams of everyone who watched the original closely and thought, “it was lacking this,” or “I wanted to see more of that.” And I think that’s wonderful.

When I first watched Chapters 1 and 2, especially Chapter 2, I thought, “this is missing, that is missing,” etc., and I said as much to Shimamoto (staff): “Why is that line of Okita’s missing?” etc. I thought of things I wanted to add to it, and wasn’t satisfied. But I think that’s fine. I think that Izubuchi has managed to add what was missing and has made something wonderful. (to Izubuchi) You’re great! (Applause)

To the audience I say that if you think there isn’t enough Okita in 2199, then please watch the original. If you watch the original and think something is lacking, please watch 2199. A lot of the drama in 2199 wasn’t in the original, right? I think the viewers will be pleased with that. And it’s been 30 or 40 years since the original came out, anyway.

Izubuchi: Of course, those who came here tonight to see 2199 did so because they like Yamato, but as a TV series made in the 1970s it originally reflected the concerns people had then. But now I’m thinking of what the youth of today might be concerned about. When put this way, while I’m making the series I love, I want it to be watched by younger viewers as well–which may surprise people, since it’s being shown at the cinema.

But this is the release plan we envisioned for the show, which is why now we have the TV broadcast due to start in April. (Applause). So, hopefully a younger audience who doesn’t necessarily know what “warp” means can watch it and find it interesting. Conversely, it would be good if gets them interested in the original series and connects the shows in that way.

MC: I’ve heard that Yamato 2199 was made with the 4-episode theatrical format in mind. So while the episodes were made in a format for television, you kept in mind the way they are grouped in the theatrical release. For example, the way episodes end.

Izubuchi: It’s fine to end TV episodes on a cliffhanger, but with each theatrical chapter being 4 episodes long, it wouldn’t be good if the final episode of a chapter ended on too much of a cliffhanger.

MC: Of course, everyone can look forward to seeing how the show is on TV when the broadcast begins. (To Anno) I heard you’ve been keeping up with Yamato 2199 with each new theatrical release. Has there been any scene or character that you thought was particularly well realized visually?

Anno: Hmmm… Yuki Mori. (Laughter)

MC: What do you find interesting about her? The changes to the character?

Anno: Actually I didn’t like her at first, but she started to really grow on me around the beginning of Chapter 3.

Izubuchi: [Houko] Kuwashima is good [in the role], isn’t she?

Anno: Yes, she is. I think that the one thing Yamato 2199 lacks up to this point is a do-or-die sense of heroism. Of desperation. I think that’s because of the modern era we are in.

Izubuchi: Well, the original was a product of the 70’s, and while I wouldn’t say that sense of desperation has completely disappeared today, when you go back and watch the original series today… I think that that era did have that sort of image. There were many incidents happening all over the world–terrorism, etc.–that contributed to this image. To try to portray that sense as it was is difficult. Conveying it to new, younger viewers is difficult.

Also, maybe I didn’t really have confidence that I could do so. It’s not like it’s completely disappeared, although there’s more of a sense of logic [to it] now that appeals to [new] viewers. And when asked to explain what this sense was like back then, you begin to wonder about it…

Anno: Well, people back then had the experience of WW2 and the sense of urgency and desperation really came to be embodied in Captain Okita.

Izubuchi: While there are young people today who don’t know about the war, in the 70’s military miniatures were were really popular, like those made by Tamiya. But at the same time, military records were altered, so it was like you couldn’t really touch on these things. Conversely, they could be touched on via one’s hobbies. This would have been when I was in Junior or Senior High and was what we called the Takani Era. This was due to the model box art by Yoshiyuki Takani. I remember having a picture of a tank by him when I was in middle school.

MC: I think this was normal. Even I remember making plastic model tanks when I was a student.

Izubuchi: Tank no. 35, Plane no. 72… and then there battleships in 1/100 scale.

MC: So as you were saying earlier, this was the background to that era.

Izubuchi: Right. There were these various elements, and what surprised me was the way Yamato mixed them: Science Fiction, military elements, and hot-blooded drama. Any single one of these could be found in other productions. Yamato mixed these elements, yet still retained them really well.

MC: So, you are saying that recreating these elements today is difficult?

Izubuchi: I’ve mentioned this previously, but when a show is well-made, everyone has his or her own unique impression of it. 100 fans who all treasure Yamato will have 100 different ideas as to what it is. That’s because Yamato had so many elements to it. It’s difficult to do this. You have to decide what to include and what not to. And 100 different Yamato fans will always have different opinions on one thing or another.

I thought from the very start [of the project] that it would be impossible to please everyone. So, I decided to put those elements together that were possible, in my opinion, and try–is try the correct word?–to do 2199.

MC: (to Anno) How close would you say Yamato 2199 is to your personal image of it?

Anno: I’d have to say it’s pretty different. (Laughter) But I think it’s fine that way.

MC: (to Anno) Actually, I’ve heard you say elsewhere that Yamato 2199 is the anime you are most interested in watching.

Anno: Yes, it is. That’s because it’s Yamato. That’s the important point. (Laughter)

MC: But it’s different to your own image of Yamato.

Anno: But it’s Yamato. I always watch it [at the cinema]. (Applause).

Izubuchi: When I started the project, it was like a dream. “It’s Yamato! I can make Yamato!” But the gap between the dream and reality was so harsh. (Laughter)

Anno: But in the end, you’ve managed to do a good job.

Izubuchi: We couldn’t put any robots in it, though.

Anno: Yes, that’s too bad.

Izubuchi: (Laughing) What do you mean, it’s too bad? Where would I put them?

Anno: Well, surely you could put them in somewhere? Even if it’s only for a single shot? (Laughter)

MC: (to Anno) By the way, have you seen the storyboards for any of the episodes after Chapter 4?

Anno: No, nothing. I haven’t heard anything. Although I do know that they are going to that Amazon place. The queen is going to make an appearance, right? (Laughter) [Note: this refers to Planet Beemera.]

Izubuchi: Well, you’ll just have to watch and see. Actually, we go drinking together sometimes, and he keeps asking me these sorts of questions. (Laughter)

MC: We are running out of time, so do you have any final words for the audience?

Izubuchi: The Queen doesn’t make an appearance! (Laughter)

Anno: I said most of this already, but if there’s anyone in the audience who has yet to watch the original Yamato, please do! Watching it now it does look old in many respects, but 2199 doesn’t have that hand-drawn feel or dirty and scratched cells, whereas the original does! (Laughter) Fans of the original like us feel that it had a kind of soul to it, but if you watch it as well as Izubuchi’s 2199, 2199 is a good… how shall I put it… companion piece. (Laughter)
(to Izubuchi) But you don’t need to focus on the Gamilas side that much! I mean, who cares who that guy’s wife is?

Izubuchi: If you did it, it would just be a straight remake. That’s no good!

[After a few minutes of friendly bickering, Izubuchi continues:] You never know. Something like that may have been removed from the original show, but included in the original 39-episode plan. The goal is to cover elements like this, that feel like they may possibly have been skipped over.

Anno: You must’ve been a weird high schooler.

Izubuchi: That’s rich, coming from you! (Laughter)

MC: (to Izubuchi) Any final comments?

Izubuchi: One of the things I am trying to do is make the Yamato that might have been by including things that feel like they could have originally been included, going by the original and notes and such. These elements start coming out more in Chapters 3 and 4.

Anno: It’s 40 years worth of obsession.

Izubuchi: Obsession is important! It inspires creativity.

With that, both Izubuchi and Anno left the stage and Yamatalk 4 was over. To me, it felt less like two directors on stage and more like two old friends reminiscing and arguing over Yamato at the local bar. One was arguably the most controversial SF anime director of the 1990’s, the other a respected director who was handling one of anime’s most revered franchises.

Yet, for all the great works each had done, for all the accumulated years of experience on that stage for the hour-long discussion, the main thing that remained with me afterward was the Laughter. The hall rang with it virtually nonstop. Izubuchi and Anno were fans just like the rest of us, and we all knew it. After all, this was our Yamato.

The End

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