1980 Lookback with Writer Hideki Oka

From the Star Blazers/Yamato Premium Fan Club magazine, Vol. 15 (October 2022): 2202 and 2205 scriptwriter Hideki Oka looks back at the progressive year 1980 and recounts his impressions as a fan in the “target generation” who closely watched Yamato in real time.

Be Forever & Yamato III: Looking back with the target generation

The year 1980 was marked by many events that will remain in the history of the world. The outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War, the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, in which most Western countries, including Japan, did not participate, and so on.

For Yamato fans, this was the year of Be Forever Yamato, and also when they first came into contact with Yamato III, which became deeply engraved in their memory. The two works are also closely related to Be Forever Yamato REBEL 3199, the latest in the remake series that is currently under production.

This time, we examine Be Forever and Yamato III, which are indispensable to find hints for the upcoming 3199. We look back at Space Battleship Yamato in 1980 from the viewpoint of the “target generation” who knew it back then!

(Illustration of Sasha drawn by Shinya Takahashi, the animation director of Be Forever).

Memories of Be Forever and Yamato III from a “serious” Yamato fan

Interview with 2205 and 3199 scriptwriter Hideki Oka

This feature looks back on Be Forever and Yamato III from the perspective of the generation that experienced them firsthand. The top batter is Hideki Oka, who wrote the script for 2205. What are his memories of these two works? He talked a lot about them from his unique point of view!

Prologue: Hideki Oka and Yamato in 1980

Interviewer: When did you witness Be Forever and Yamato III?

Oka: I was in the third year of junior high school (9th grade). It was a time when the anime boom was maturing day by day. I was also aware that the situation surrounding Space Battleship Yamato was changing. Yamato was no longer the only top runner. However, there was still a strong atmosphere of expectation for Yamato. “Did you listen to the Be Forever radio drama on All Night Nippon?” It was a very lively conversation.

Interviewer: Yamato was still at the center of the conversation.

Oka: Yes. The year before, we had seen a spectacular “prequel” called The New Voyage, right? So everyone knew that the next Yamato theatrical film was coming in the summer of 1980. Really, back then, you could always reach out and touch the new Yamato whenever you wanted to. It was only natural. It was like, “Of course it’s coming.” That was the beginning of the excitement.

Two months later, Yamato III started broadcasting (October 11, 1980). It was all good up to that point. But I have the impression that the public’s expectations of Yamato changed drastically in a short period of time. For example, the amount of coverage in anime magazines. When the production of Yamato III was announced, they devoted a great number of pages to it. But when the broadcast started, the coverage became smaller and smaller.

I had a serious feeling that Yamato‘s popularity was in rapidly decline. For me, Yamato in 1980 was like experiencing the heat of midsummer and the coming of winter all at once. That was my impression.

The appeal of Be Forever (1): Earth is occupied overnight

Interviewer: What was your impression of Be Forever when you first saw it?

Oka: First of all, “Earth is occupied overnight.” That’s all there is to it. It really is taken over in an instant. From the opening narration to the landing of the heavy nucleon bombs, to the night of battles, Kazan ascends the steps of the Capitol building and declares the occupation in less than 30 minutes.

I still love that momentum, the crispness and beauty of the visuals. I don’t think there’s anyone who doesn’t like that sequence of events. Looking at it through today’s eyes, I think, “What about the air defense system?” And so on and so forth. But the momentum of the story is so skillful that you don’t pay attention to the details. (Laughs) I love this block, including the director’s skill.

The appeal of Be Forever (2): Yuki’s melodrama

Interviewer: Speaking of the unique appeal of Be Forever, “Kodai and Yuki being separated” is essential, isn’t it?

Oka: Yes. It’s a “super move” made possible by the premise that the audience will watch the entire film in a little over two hours. The tragedy is supported by the high quality of the animation. The taste of the design is different for each person. Some fans said that Yuki looked like an old lady in Be Forever. However, her sensuality is one of the greatest appeals of the film.

Interviewer: It’s a perfect melodrama world, isn’t it?

Oka: It really shows when Yuki declares, “I don’t care if I go to hell!” Recently, I had a chance to watch a TV drama adaptation of Madame Pearl, written by Hiroshi Kikuchi, and I felt that it had a similar scent to Be Forever with its vivid tragedy and sensuality. It was a newspaper novel written in the late Taisho Period (1912-1926). It became extremely popular and was repeatedly adapted for the stage and screen for more than 60 years. There was something about it that captured the hearts of the masses, wasn’t there?

I believe that the spirit of novels and stories that were popular with a wide audience, like Madame Pearl, was passed down to the Yamato production team in a very strong way. This is one of the reasons Space Battleship Yamato was so well-received by a wide range of people.

The appeal of Be Forever (3): Yamato‘s “major remodeling”

Interviewer: What mecha in Be Forever left a particularly strong impression on you?

Oka: The first thing that surprised me was Yamato itself, which had undergone a major refurbishment. This is another major feature of Be Forever. Starting from the anchor mark, almost all of the interior was redesigned. The color scheme was also renewed, I think to make Yamato look cool and shiny. The use of orange against black, the way the highlights are used, is striking.

And it wasn’t just the mecha design or the art direction, but the colors and background paintings were thoroughly reinforced to make Yamato look even cooler.

Interviewer: I was very impressed by the way they used the spherical radar and Wave-Motion depth charges.

Oka: The best part is the new Wave Engine. I think the new engine, which is drawn larger and longer, conveys the fact that the people of Earth have perfected the technology of Iscandar. If you compare the designs, the new engine is clearly longer than the old one. But the total length of Yamato remains the same, so there’s no way that only the engine grew.

I’m ashamed to say that I only noticed the trick two years ago. (Laughs) In the previous setup, there was a dividing wall separating the engine compartments. In Be Forever, they took away that dividing wall and showed the whole thing. When I was a kid, I didn’t understand such things at all, and I just thought, “Wow, that’s something.” The ingenuity made me feel it was “something amazing.” I think the staff at that time must have gone through a lot of trial and error.

The appeal of Be Forever (4): Ensign Alphon’s “lonely struggle”

Interviewer: What else was interesting to you at the time?

Oka: The big attraction was the way it hit the audience with the gimmicks of its staging, the elaborate artwork, vast settings, and overwhelming music and sound effects. That has been passed on continuously in the series. It’s something that has always been done, especially in the films. I feel that Be Forever is one of the completed forms of the series.

On the other hand, the human appeal of the enemy characters on the Gamilas and Comet Empire sides was gone. “What’s the empty feeling in this enemy? Why is Skaldart himself coming to kill Sasha with a gun?” Everyone who watched it had something to say. What was the purpose behind that character? I still wonder about that.

Alphon tried his best to overcome the “bloodlessness” of the enemy characters. I think that strange sense of unbalance is one of the interesting points of the film.

The appeal of Yamato III (1): Connecting Yamato‘s world view

Interviewer: How much did you know about Yamato III beforehand?

Oka: Anime magazines devoted a considerable amount of pages to it. They covered the worldview, mecha, characters, and everything else. So I must have had a good understanding of all aspects of the show before the first episode aired. I’ll never forget the spread in Animage magazine (below). The headline was “Young 18-year-old Eagles,” and it introduced a large number of new crew members.

When I saw it, I honestly thought, “What a bunch of noobs!” I felt it was “unrefined.” But when I saw them in action on TV, I thought, “They’ve become wonderful characters!” (Laughs) The greatest impression I had of Yamato III was that a lot of wonderful newcomers appeared.

It was with Yamato III that I realized for the first time what “Yamato‘s worldview” was. Of course, the previous works had their own worldviews, but I had the impression that each work was self-contained and unconnected. When I saw Yamato III, I realized, “They consciously changed that!”

I think it was Yamato III that shone a new light on people and events that they had never turned the camera on before.

Interviewer: What’s an example of that?

Oka: There are many, but the first one is Hajime Hirata in the cooking department of the life support group. We first met him in Yamato III, but he casually said that he’d actually been on board since the trip to Iscandar. Moreover, he makes tea for Kodai in the middle of the night. As a viewer, I thought, “I’ve never heard of such a thing.” But there was a certain quality that grabbed my heart at once.

I was also fascinated when an Earth Defense Forces cruiser that I first saw in 1978 suddenly reappeared alive and well, even though it was only in a few shots. Details like that really knocked me out. The way to connect the details of past works to the present was one of the main attractions up to the middle of the series.

The appeal of Yamato III (2): The new crew were “underdogs” in a sense

Interviewer: In addition to Ryusuke Domon, who gained attention in 2205, Takeshi Ageha was also a big part of Yamato III, wasn’t he?

Oka: Yes. As a result, they became characters that can only be described as “underdogs.” At the time, we used information from anime magazines to build up our imagination before the show aired. One magazine said they were like Hyuma Hoshi and Mitsuru Hanagata in Star of the Giants. I guess it meant, “rivals connected by a passionate friendship.”

When you hear that, you expect to see a great story, don’t you? But there are only a few times when these two are in a scene together. I guess there’s the problem of them not being able to meet on board Yamato because they’re in different departments. But no matter how many times I watched the episodes, I couldn’t get the feeling that Domon and Ageha are best friends.

Interviewer: There were many other new characters besides them.

Oka: I was interested in Sakamaki and Nishina. I think these two were also important elements in the expanding world of Yamato. At first, Sakamaki was designed as one of the rookie characters, but at some point, his status was changed. (Laughs) I was surprised when it was decided that Sakamaki and Nishina were predecessors of Domon and the others. Sakamaki is in the scene in the first episode at the space fighter training school, but he’s actually a senior student. (Laughs) It’s a story unique to the easy-going times.

The appeal of Yamato III (3): Conflicts between great powers that intersected with the real world

Interviewer: In relation to 2205, the conflict between Galman-Gamilas and the Bolar Federation is also a major highlight of Yamato III.

Oka: It’s a big worldview, isn’t it? It’s easy to understand the composition based on the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Earth gets caught in the middle of the conflict between the major powers. I was impressed by the way it reflected the state of Japan at that time. I’m sure there were budgetary restrictions because it was a TV production, but I was very happy to see that they showed us as much as possible in terms of quantity.

I think everyone liked it in the first episode, when Dagon orders the “planet-destroying super missile mothership to move forward!” The new mecha comes in full-frame. That sense of scale filled me with excitement that something bigger than the previous series had just begun. It was on a small TV screen, but I felt that Yamato was going to do its best to show us a great picture.

The appeal of Yamato III (4): Dessler the “Elite Actor”

Interviewer: Dessler makes an appearance in the fourth episode. Were you shocked by that?

Oka: I think most anime fans, including myself, had some way of catching advance information. So we knew that the enemy mentioned in the narration as the “Galman Empire” was in fact “Galman-Gamilas.” I don’t think it was much of a surprise when Dessler reappeared on screen. Those of us who knew the general setup thought, “Dagon is a really stupid commander who messes with Yamato.” (Laughs)

Interviewer: When the series started, there was a sense of anticipation, especially among female fans, as to when Dessler would appear.

Oka: That was the case, but it wasn’t limited to women. It’s true that many were waiting for Dessler’s reappearance. What I still feel strongly is the commitment of the producers at the time to meet those expectations. The thought thoroughly comes through; “We have to make a runway for Dessler, the man of a thousand roles.” I think it’s great achievement that they created the stage of Galman-Gamilas and made Dessler reappear on that stage.

The appeal of Yamato III (5): The existence of a super villain named Bemlayze

Interviewer: Captain Ram of the Birth Star Fleet of the Bolar Federation, who appears in the beginning of the film, is portrayed as a manly and appealing character. Bemlayze was also impressive as a perfect villain.

Oka: It gradually becomes clear during the course of the story that there’s no such thing as a “decent” person who promotes colonial rule. Bemlayze, the vulgar prime minister of the Bolar Federation, is the definitive example of this.

Interviewer: With the voice of Junpei Takiguchi, he became a picture-perfect bad guy. The fact that the original one-year broadcast schedule was cut in half was also a big factor.

Oka: I wonder what would have happened if they had made 50 episodes as planned.

Some Yamato fans love it when Dessler asks, “What denomination should your funeral be in?” And Bemlayze replies, “I’m the one giving the funeral!”

There was a meaning to that exchange in the last episode that was not depicted. Bemlayze promoted the suppression of Shalbartism, but was in fact kneeling to Shalbart’s doctrine as an individual. A leader with a secret that no one should know, a torn duality. Dessler sees his inner life when he asks about his denomination. The question was meant to have a hint of pity.

Interviewer: Where did you hear that story?

Oka: That’s a lie. I came up with it just now. (Laughs) I’m sure that scene was written after the cancellation was decided. But it still has enough impact to make us imagine various things after more than 40 years.

The appeal of Yamato III (6): It’s full of a variety of love stories!

Interviewer: The love story was different from that of Be Forever. There were many couplings, such as Yoshikazu Aihara and Akiko Todo, and Takeshi Ageha and Princess Ruda.

Oka: I guess there was an order to “depict love in the story.” As for the coupling of Aihara and Akiko Todo, I thought, “They’ve finally started to delve into this part.” (Laughs)

After seeing the last episode, I was surprised to read in the Yamato III Roman Album that Tomoko Yamakami, the pioneer woman in Episode 8, is pregnant and was originally going to travel with Yamato, and the child would be born safely. That wasn’t in the story! (Laughs) Her husband died, making her a widow, and Sanada supports her, and their love deepens. It seemed Dessler would see the baby and decide the battle was over.

Interviewer: That would have been a very interesting story.

Oka: Yamato was desperately mass-producing variations of love at that time. I don’t think it would have felt out of place if it was included. I’m really glad they didn’t do it, though. (Laughs)

The appeal of Yamato III (7): The mecha that is still talked about

Interviewer: What do you think of the mecha of Yamato III? I think the most important element is Arizona and the vessels from other countries.

Oka: Arizona is a great ship. It’s a design that seems to complement the overall worldview of the series. At the time, there was a debate among fans as to whether or not there were still different nations on Earth. The official response was, “Yes, there are!” More than 40 years have passed since then, and everyone is still digging deeper into those few shots. (Laughs) That’s how unforgettable the impression is of those international battleships.

Interviewer: What other mecha left an impression on you?

Oka: It’s not about individual mecha, but how the number designed by Katsumi Itabashi increased all at once that was impressive. Even if others drew the rough draft, Itabashi did the finish work. There seemed to be a lot of patterns.

Yamato III is a story of three camps, but from the middle onward, I felt that the impression of the different mecha was becoming similar. In the beginning, the mecha of the Bolar Federation had a distinct personality. But from the middle, it became more and more vague. I felt like, “If they don’t keep the same personality that was decided at the beginning, they won’t look like the same country’s army.” I was a cocky kid.

But it was precisely because of that that the Comet Empire army looked cool. I had such a dilemma. But still, the design that shines toward the end is what makes the series stand out. I think this is one of the things you can’t overlook in Yamato III.

The appeal of Yamato III (8): Questions from Planet Shalbart

Interviewer: The most unique point of Yamato III is the existence of the Shalbart religion.

Oka: It ends up being a story about the preciousness of nonviolent disobedience and non-resistance pacifism. It was quite abrupt. Looking back on my memories of that time, for a couple years I had a hunch that Yamato would come to that conclusion.

Interviewer: What do you mean?

Oka: To begin with, the Yamato series is a story that denies war, even though a battleship is the main character. It’s a contradiction, or rather, an endless series of questions about war. But I vaguely felt that there would never be a conclusion to such a difficult question.

If it were possible, it would be a Ghandi-like non-resistance principle, the realization of harmony through the renunciation of warfare. If the people of the earth willingly gave up Yamato‘s power, it would put an end to warfare in the universe. Was the world of Yamato heading toward such a conclusion? I was really surprised that it turned out to be exactly what I was thinking.

I thought, “If we settle for that, we’ll never be able to make Yamato in the future.” Kodai’s statement, “I don’t know how far I can go, but I’ll try my best” became very clear to me. It was a statement from the producer as well as from the character. I thought to myself, “They had no choice but to let him say this,” and then I saw the captions at the end playing a message with the producer’s name on it.

I was stunned about why they were talking about the real world here. I’ll never forget how I finished the broadcast in a dark mood. “Where are you going, Yamato?” I was more keenly of myself on April 4, 1981. (smiles).

Epilogue: What is the link with 3199?

Interviewer: By the way, was that an image of Shalbart in the temple at the beginning of 2205?

Oka: In the “concept memo” for that, there was a philanthropic thought on Planet Galman, and non-resistance as the basis of their religion. Therefore, the Bolar Federation took advantage of it and colonized the planet. It is certain that the script was written based on this concept. However, there’s no mention of Shalbart as their religion. I don’t know what facts will be revealed in the future.

Interviewer: For that matter, it would be interesting to depict the founding process of Galman-Gamilas, which was not explained in detail in Yamato III.

Oka: I can’t say anything about that either. It’s a little off-topic, but I feel that 2205 was a really happy work. We aimed to create a comfortable Yamato for everyone. We didn’t go as far as 2202 in terms of the extreme depiction of Yamato, but I feel we managed to achieve it to some extent.

However, I believe 2205 plays a certain role in the larger framework of “remake Yamato.” This is, of course, the power of the original work, the story of Gamilas and Iscandar being blown up. We were able to reconstruct a new story that traced the original.

Interviewer: I see.

Oka: But while using that framework as a background, Mr. Fukui put in something a little different, didn’t he? I think that’s the “Fukui-style.” Without this “Fukui-style,” there would be no leap forward in the series. The question is, where will the “Fukui-style” go from here? Isn’t that the whole point? I’m looking forward to that while awaiting the completion of 3199.

Interviewer: That’s a big part of it.

Oka: Part of the “answer” to what Mr. Fukui is going to do can be read in the proposal that was published in Yamato 2205 Complete Works, published by Kadokawa Shoten. It tells you Mr. Fukui’s thoughts at the time he wrote the proposal, though it may change in the future.

Still, the production of 3199 may be a more time-consuming task than ever before. I think it’s possible that we will go beyond the original while “searching for good things.” Perhaps 3199 will be an extremely elaborate “something else” under the skin of Be Forever Yamato, just like that “fake Earth.” Heh, heh, heh.

Interviewer: Now that you’ve said that, I can’t wait to see the finished product!

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