Interview with 2199 scriptwriter Shigeru Morita

From Great Mechanics DX #26, September 2013

NOTE: The color spreads provide an overview of the battle in Episode 20. The interview text is contained on the black and white pages shown below.

Special feature: Battle of the Rainbow Star Cluster

It was Shigeru Morita of Studio Nue who took charge of the script for the battle of the Rainbow Star Cluster in Space Battleship Yamato 2199. In addition, he was responsible for the stories of Operation M2 and the covert Dimensional Submarine. We asked Mr. Morita, who ran the “battlefield,” about many things including the Rainbow battle and the motions of the 2199 script team!

Profile: Born in 1959, a native of Kyoto. In addition to script duties for Turn A Gundam, Gundam Seed, and Code Geass, he was responsible for special concepts and research, and is also known as Settei-ya [Setting Shop].

[Translator’s note: “Setting” in this context is interchangeable with “Concept,” referring to unique ideas developed for a story. The suffix -ya indicates a vendor or a shop.]

What was needed to carefully remake the Battle of the Rainbow Star Cluster!?

Interviewer: I think that when fans revisit the Rainbow Star Cluster battle after a long time, there are a lot of “that’s it?” reactions. (Laughs) However, I think a lot of people remember that battle as something spectacular. This is an unexpectedly difficult theme.

Morita: While you get a lot of pleasure from the image of the original Rainbow Cluster, you have to accept that it comes at the expense of the SF and scientific reality.

I also love the explosion scene, and I think [Supervising Director] Noboru Ishiguro was amazing. But speaking from the standpoint of a writer, it’s an episode that’s not completely clear in terms of time and spatial structure. It was necessary to think in various ways to establish that.

Part of the story is that the station on Planet Balun was a warp hub, and we linked it to the Rainbow Star Cluster by working backward from “the reason there are only four carriers in the Domel task force.” Rather than worrying about preserving things from the past, we wanted to focus on it properly to make it interesting. To think that over, the Yamato 2199 writing team apparently read over the script again and again.

In the original story, the strategy was very well put together. They lure Yamato‘s fighters away with a decoy, leaving it with no air cover. Then they take out its radar from above with dive bombers, and follow up with torpedoes from torpedo bombers. It’d be perfect, if it wasn’t set in space! (Laughs) We had to do something with the surrounding conditions to make it work. And one more thing, we had to think about how to develop the story after the Rainbow Star Cluster.

Because the story of 2199 was beginning to flow in a direction different from the original, we asked, “What if we separate Yuki Mori from Yamato here?” When we counted backward to find a place for it, it turned out to be Episode 20. And counting backward again, we saw that “the military unit that does it is made up of Zalts people,” and it snapped into place. So if you ask, “Why not simply recreate the battle of the Rainbow Star Cluster like it was in the old show?” the answer is that we just couldn’t.

Interviewer: In 2199, Yuki Mori has the role of a spectator of Garmillas.

Morita: Also, once Kodai and Yuki come together as a couple it finishes the story of their characters, so we dragged out their separation as long as possible.

A space battle that looks like a naval battle…

Interviewer: I was really impressed by the battle of the Rainbow Star Cluster in 2199, but although the title is Space Battleship Yamato, in the present anime work, the point of it being a naval battle from World War II is intentional. (Laughs)

Morita: Tsukasa Kano, our SF researcher, told me that “the Tarantula Nebula is in just the right place.” When I saw a photo, it was a truly beautiful Rainbow Star Cluster, and I immediately decided, “that’s the place.” Since it’s an area of dense interstellar matter, sensors would fail, so the fight would have to happen within visual range, and that’s where the naval battle materialized.

Up to that point in the script stage, there was no clear image, just the impression that the stars had a high density, and the depiction of the Rainbow Star Cluster in the trailer after Episode 19 was simply, “We’ll do it here!” Furthermore, in Episode 20 there were ripples flowing behind the carriers! (Laughs) At this point, you’re not going to get me to say that wasn’t the right way to do it.

Not limited to this story, since 2199 is a production where a bunch of people gathered together who said, “No matter what, we want to make Yamato,” looking at Episode 1 and the staff who have been doing the series up until then, my thought was, “I’m relieved.” I can say it now after the fact, but at the script stage I didn’t expect this much, to be honest. It was a pleasant surprise.

Interviewer: Outer space becomes the sea, and Yamato is not a carrier, but it substantially becomes a carrier battle. Furthermore, in the story of the fleet crew on the Garmillas side, such as the flight captains, it has the taste of the Japanese navy going to extremes. So the effect is a “battle of the Japanese Navy Vs Japanese Navy.” (Laughs)

Morita: Because the script wasn’t very dense, I think a lot of that was built up in the storyboard stage. Anyway, it’s all over the top. I watched the movie, too, and there were a lot of places where the jaw drops. (Laughs)

Why 2199 has surprisingly little flying action…

Interviewer: Most of the time, you’ve been in charge of flying action. It was convenient for the original Yamato to have aircraft, and although it is used in 2199 in a “connector” role, I thought it was quite surprising that there wasn’t much of it.

Morita: That’s because Kodai seldom leaves the ship this time. If Kodai goes out in the Cosmo Zero now, the Yamato side will be in big trouble. He’s the head of tactics and Kato is the flight commander, so Kodai can’t just leave. In the pursuit of reality, we couldn’t let him go out as in the original work.

That’s why scenes where fighters play an active role have been reduced, but on the other hand I was in charge of the episodes where they stand out. As a result, people keep asking me, “Why are you the only one who sends out the Falcons and Zeros?” (Laughs) It’s not my fault, though. (Laughs)

Interviewer: One more thing concerning the Rainbow Star Cluster; the drill missile was not a missile. (Laughs) It became a special rock-drilling cartridge. What was the process for that?

Morita: “They should use it.” “They shouldn’t use it.” There were voices that said both, and it took considerable time to resolve. Because if they didn’t use it, the whole strategy would change. We had to examine it carefully.

For my part, I said, “I think it should be used. We just need to refine it into something modern to match the standard of other descriptions.”

Interviewer: Certainly when you look back to 30 years ago, give or take, though it was something exciting for a child, you can’t help but look at it as a tsukkomi story now. (Laughs)

[Translator’s note: tsukkomi in this context refers to the straight man in a slapstick comedy duo.]

Morita: Putting it in terms of our generation, it’s like in Gamera vs. Space Monster Viras [A.K.A. Destroy All Planets]: “when you flip the polarity of the power circuit for the teleport ray in reverse…it reverses the direction of transfer!” (Laughs) We all tore into the problem, but it kept ending up using the same sort of solution. So we were really in a sweat trying to justify how to get the drill to go in reverse. In the end, I did it by putting Analyzer and Niimi inside it. (Laughs)

The suicidal explosion of Domel was not wanted!?

Interviewer: There are modern techniques now, such as hacking. Compared to how it went in the original, there’s a twist.

Morita: The ending was that the ejected missile explodes, and all the carriers are destroyed in a chain reaction. I think it was an excellent scene by Noboru Ishiguro that has gone down in anime history. For this reason, it is not exactly the same.

So how did we pull off this scene now? The Rainbow Star Cluster is a proto-star domain with ion turbulence and space jets, and that concept makes it a dangerous region. The nature of space itself is what completely destroys Domel’s task force.

In fact, after the completion of Chapter 6, it was seen by the original Yamato staff members in our company (Studio Nue), and [mecha designer] Kazutaka Miyatake said, “The Rainbow Star Cluster came together well. It was well done.” I was glad to hear those words.

This episode was complicated to make because it’s the one where the Zalts forces simultaneously break into Yamato to capture Yurisha and grab Yuki by mistake, and Kodai takes a back seat as the main character; he’s on the bridge at the crucial moment. (Laughs) Since the structure of the story had already been established as an ensemble drama, I was afraid it wouldn’t be accepted by the audience when it was shown. That’s why I was relieved to hear its reputation.

Interviewer: It’s like Nanbu saying, “I’m the gunner!” (Laughs) Rather, the fans seemed to go along with that sort of direction, didn’t they?

Morita: Without meaning to, we let our true love of analog show its face. (Laughs) When I watched Episode 19, I suddenly realized the radar was rotating while the Garmillas fighters took off from the carrier. (Laughs) And when viewing the carrier from the front, I shouted, “I can see the other side through the bottom deck” (Laughs) It was like being a junior high student again. (Laughs)

Interviewer: That’s a good story. (Laughs) Also, the interpretation of Domel’s last moments was different, too.

Morita: When I thought about how to reproduce the battle of the Rainbow Star Cluster, I didn’t want to have Domel’s suicide attack as part of the strategy. In the original, Domel had it in mind to scuttle himself from the beginning, but here I wanted to have him lose everything and make the ultimate choice as his last move.

Because I thought he would not involve a subordinate, the only way they’d follow him would be voluntarily, and I wanted to show that Domel wouldn’t throw any lives away. He would not want to die and leave his wife Elisa behind. But to survive after failing against Yamato and seeing his subordinates die in front of him, I didn’t think he could live with that. For Domel, I think that would be more painful than anything.

Interviewer: As for the third bridge not being destroyed by Domel’s suicide explosion, that was sort of a shock to fans of the original.

Morita: Is that so? (Laughs) Everyone was waiting to see when the third bridge would be destroyed, huh? It’s connected to Yamato‘s keel, so if you could destroy it, it would have to be a pretty rickety structure. It was cool to see the belly ripped to pieces in the original, but the thought of the staff this time was, “that would be impossible to recover from.”

Anyway, in the time before we had video decks, “it can be repaired by next week,” but we can’t do that now. The directive is “we continue in a broken state,” and of course if there was no third bridge on Yamato it wouldn’t hold together as a design. “Should we maintain that as a fixture?” is a seductive question, but we didn’t have to maintain it here.

The script team was in charge of 2199‘s newness!?

Interviewer: I heard that General Director Yutaka Izubuchi personally gathered writers from the Yamato generation to be the script writing team for 2199. It really is an all-star membership, isn’t it? That writing team put 2199 together in a new way, didn’t they?

Morita: The first proposal that was presented by director Izubuchi faithfully reproduced all of the original 26 TV episodes. The writing team overturned it right away. (Laughs) This would be a work of the 21st Century, and viewers wouldn’t find the Gamilas image from about 40 years ago to be convincing.

Since director Izubuchi has an intensely strong feeling for Yamato, he said, “can’t we just make it as is?” But the writing team kept up solidarity and said, “they are completely different in the latter half,” and as a result of their discussions, the current direction for 2199 was made.

Interviewer: The writing team is extravagant and has good relationships with director Izubuchi, and because they’re all Yamato fans, it’s interesting to hear about such a cushion. [Translator’s note: “cushion” is the literal word used in the text here, but “margin” is closer to the meaning.]

Morita: Because a lot of the staff is from the Yamato generation they are very faithful, but they tended to flow in a direction that carried out the remake with present techniques. When I thought about the role I was asked to take for this, I wondered if it was going to be a struggle.

More specifically, we couldn’t make a Yamato that junior high and high school students would find funny, and it would probably be useless to make a TV anime that young people wouldn’t watch. For example, it would be no good if there wasn’t a larger number of female characters, the story would need more scientific integrity, and other suggestions kept on rolling.

Although, as you’d expect, when someone said, “What if we made Captain Okita a woman?” our jaws kind of hit the floor. (Laughs) It would have caused a riot if we’d gone with that idea.

“You don’t need to make something that favors young men.”

“There’s nothing wrong with featuring young men.”

We had exchanges with such nuance nearly every time.

We were going to make the female characters’ words and actions as much like today’s moe [fetish] anime girls as possible. Hiroshi Onoki scolded me, saying “Morita has no interest in male characters.” Whenever the behavior of the female characters differed from what director Izubuchi liked, there was an argument about how we view women.

The reason for separating from the original and taking an independent path!?

Interviewer: A number of episodes in the first half really do seem to trace the original story.

Morita: The vestiges of original episodes 1-3 remain, don’t they? But Yamato launches in Episode 2 this time, and I think there was also a way to compress it enough to launch in Episode 1. When I saw it in a theater in April of last year, I was really excited, but at the same time I thought, “Ending it here would be really tough on the younger viewers.”

There were a lot of middle-aged men in the audience. So when I remembered my earlier suggestion that “it’s better to add more females,” I thought, “I wonder if I said the right thing?” and it gave me an uneasy feeling. (Laughs)

Interviewer: Were there any differences over which specific episodes to keep and which to drop? I’ve seen some opinions that say it would have been better to leave some things in, such as the asteroid ring.

Morita: The original Yamato was a self-contained-episode-type anime. But Taiga drama is the standard now. [Translator’s note: Taiga literally means “big river” and refers to a long-form story structure. The term was coined for drama serials on Japan’s NHK network. Click here for more info.] If we went that way, it would be hard to include self-contained episodes.

Of course I understand why, and if today’s young viewers saw it, I’m pretty sure they’d make fun of it, but I think it’s a shame that we lost the chance to show them those moments. The literacy and values of today’s audience are different from 40 years ago. In a sense, Yamato was a trailblazer, and it’s interesting that it would change when being passed from one to another. I think it was inevitable.

Was this the last timing in which to make 2199!?

Interviewer: Among the Yamato generation, while there are many who say of 2199, “This is what we’ve been waiting for,” I think even the opposing faction can’t help but see its quality as a film. That may be the power of the work itself.

Morita: Looking at the audience for Japanese animation, particularly the generation that watched Yamato, I think their literacy is the highest in the world.

So, because the staff is made of up people who already work on the front lines, I think everybody understands that the hurdles are going to be fairly high when making something that can live up to their expectations.

To be frank, when I was first called in I didn’t really want to do it. When I undertook it, I prepared to be scrutinized with stern eyes from people in every cluster. Now I think it was good that they called out to me, but I didn’t think so back then.

If I hadn’t gotten involved with this Yamato, I would have been very disappointed and died an agonizing death. (Laughs) No, I really think so. I have to thank the director.

Interviewer: The whole staff probably thought that, including director Izubuchi. It is well said that “masterpieces are made possible by a combination of lucky accidents.” With this work, the view seems to be, “I called you together out of necessity.”

Morita: I think that this was probably the last chance to recreate Yamato. That’s because, among the staff that makes animation, our generation may be the last with basic education and knowledge of things like military grammar, and if it was done by a staff in their 30s and 40s, I think making Yamato in this form would probably be impossible.

Also, since everyone’s 60th birthday will come in another ten years or so, I think the timing was right. That’s why, in terms of what we’ve seen and grown up with, and what Yamato means to us, I think we’re the generation right on the precipice of being the last one that could make this.

SIDEBAR: Episode 6

Sunset on Pluto

Interviewer: Before the battle of the Rainbow Star Cluster, you were in charge of the battle on Pluto, which was very good and had some changes.

Morita: In my case, Pluto was my first challenge. When the preliminary talks were still in their early stages, the word was “let’s do it this way,” but there wasn’t much clarity or direction, and anyway how would we modernize the old Pluto battle? How would they find Shulz’s base? I rewrote that draft over and over.

Interviewer: In the original Pluto battle, Kodai and the others actually march into the grounds, encounter local creatures (?) and find the electrified floor, and the new concepts were a real surprise.

Morita: The way it was handled it in the old show, they waited for their opponent to make a move before making theirs (like cheating at rock-paper-scissors). When we handled it from that angle while refining it in a modern way, we concluded, “There’s no way for them to land.”

Interviewer: Still, there is certainly a cool part from the original, the spectacle of rising to the surface and sinking at the last second.

Morita: In the case of the submarine action, I said, “Since there is such a setup, I definitely want to use it,” I’m not entirely clear on why they’d use it, but when you work from the theory that a warship’s armor is thickest there, “it looks like a strange submarine, and it’s interesting” when only the red-colored part surfaces

SIDEBAR: Episode 13

The Wolf of the Different Dimension

Interviewer: In another one you were in charge of, The Wolf of the Different Dimension, you took the image of the submarine (more properly, the Dimensional Dive Ship) and gave the thrust-and-parry clash a charm much in the style of the film The Enemy Below.

Morita: That’s right. For myself, I love old war movies like The Enemy Below or Battle of the Bulge as entertainment rather than ideology, and there’s a part where you do an intentional homage. I do it thinking something like, “If you watch Yamato, go watch The Enemy Below as well.” (Laughs)

Analysis: Domel’s conduct

Why was Domel’s task force beaten?

By Hajime Ichigaya

Planning of the Rainbow Star Cluster naval battle was perfect

Given the circumstances that few space combat vessels were available for battle. Domel’s task force was forced to attack Yamato with the equivalent of the Coast Guard.

When attacking Yamato, the greatest difficulty is posed by the Wave-Motion Gun and Wave-Motion Barrier. Ordinarily, Domel would quickly adapt to his circumstances and use his ingenuity to devise tactics that would overwhelm the enemy. However, since that was not possible this time, he saw a chance for victory by planning to neutralize both the Wave-Motion Gun and barrier.

Changes in his basic strategy involved putting a carrier in the lead and using its fighters to lure out Yamato‘s Cosmo Falcon corps. Using a prototype teleportation machine, an attack plane formation was transferred directly in front of Yamato in a flash. After this force neutralized her radar and artillery, it would become possible to deploy the special rock-drilling cartridge into the Wave-Motion Gun muzzle and render it useless. After the cartridge destroyed it from inside by a delayed fuse, the torpedo bomber attack would be carried out. After that, Yamato would be buried by a bombardment from the carriers and the flagship.

In this strategy, carriers and fighters are the most effective element of the Domel task force, and are thought to be compatible with the strategy of secretly entering Yamato to capture the important person from Iscandar.

Then, why was Domel’s task force defeated?

The task force was organized in such a way that each carrier had only one model of aircraft. One carried fighters, one carried dive bombers, and one carried torpedo bombers. This specialization would be effective in terms of operating efficiency. Thus the premise was that these carriers would act on simple instructions and carry them out intensively.

This might have been the usual configuration, a warship with orthodox fighters, one with dive bombers, and one with torpedo bombers, to carry out air support for an attack. Meanwhile, the strategy of using teleportation just before bombing makes detection next to impossible, and the probability of hitting the enemy increases over that of a normal attack.

You could say this was the only way to ensure that the slow-moving bomber loaded with the drill bomb could reliably complete its mission.

Some miscalculations that Domel did not anticipate

In order to reduce risk, unusual tactics were taken in the strategy itself. Carrier Bulgrey and its fighter corps took the lead as a decoy to attract Yamato‘s fighters and destroy it if things went well. This strategy was probably to cover for their allied ship as it made the transfer to Yamato by stealth. However, the unexpected defeat and sinking of the Bulgrey and her forces reduced the effect of the lightning-strike unit that couldn’t rush at Yamato without fighter cover. This may have been a miscalculation of Domel. In other words, he misjudged the ability of Yamato‘s air power.

Actually, this fleet war showed the differences in scientific power between Earth and Garmillas. The power of aircraft alone is almost the same, but Yamato itself is superior. (Another factor is that the Garmillas side was understaffed, with mostly young soldiers of low proficiency.) In addition, having the scientific power to hack into the special rock-drilling cartridge and redirect it was probably unexpected by Garmillas.

In fact, if Domel’s task force had one more unit, or even just one more fighter squadron, the situation could have gone in a different direction. Even if the rock-drilling cartridge was neutralized, air superiority would then be secured and the attack of the torpedo bombers would have been successful. Another sortie by the attack fighters and dive bombers would also have been possible.

Furthermore, it was also painful that because of the parallel operation to capture the Iscandarian, the Dimensional Submarine could not be used as another attack force.

Thus, Yamato‘s edge against them was unexpected, and they suffered defeat by quick thinking from Captain Okita.

Writing it this way shows how Domel’s day of defeat came to be. It was carelessness. Garmillas probably thought that Yamato‘s strength was largely based on the acquired technology of Iscandar. That lead to the factor of multiple losses.

Finally, Domel himself did not doubt his own superiority and estimated that he would win even if it came down to a shooting war. This produced a gap and made him into a defeated general. However, this might have been avoidable. Any time an army lives in a world of victory after victory, it is not unusual for them to lose by becoming careless.

The End

Special thanks to Neil Nadelman for translation support.

5 thoughts on “Interview with 2199 scriptwriter Shigeru Morita

  1. Fascinating and indispensable article – thanks for translating!

    Personally I wished they had come up with something completely different from the Rainbow Star Cluster Battle plot (maybe something near a black hole, like Pirates of the Caribbean 3?).

    The new version is more sound plot and science-wise – but it lacked the jaw-dropping drama and magic of the original in my opinion. This is kind of my beef with the whole series – anytime they did their own thing it worked – and very well! But whenever they did the “legacy” stuff and made it more “realistic” – well…
    The exact same problem plagues the newest Star Trek movie (Into Darkness). Do we really want a scientifically feasible Wizard of Oz? The new Battlestar Galactica had the same challenge and had the same problems, but possibly to a lesser extent.

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