Empathy evoked by handmade images

By Ryusuke Hikawa

Images are like music. When images are gradually lined up and combined with sound, they form a certain “flow” that resonates and takes their power to a higher level. “Music” is an indispensable gateway when talking about Yamato. Anime commentator Ryusuke Hikawa takes this into consideration with “inheritance” as the main theme of this series.

Music experience resonates with the lives of people

Last November 10, I participated in the Space Battleship Yamato 2199 Orchestra Big Ceremony 2012 at the Maihama Amphitheater, and I was seized by a particular thought. It goes without saying that the melodies and arrangements left behind by the late Mr. Hiroshi Miyagawa are wonderful, and there is a hint at the compelling theme of “inheritance” that lurks in the parent/child generation.

When it was decided that his son Akira Miyagawa would take charge of the music for Yamato 2199 he re-scored it by so-called “ear copy,” since the original scores did not exist. This famous statement symbolizes the whole of 2199. As a result of thoroughly analyzing recorded tapes, he understood the “truth” of what kind of thoughts his father had when writing music, and how those thoughts were expressed. It could be summarized as receiving lessons from heaven, which is a very nice way to put it. While somewhat presumptuous, I thought it was relevant to what I’m doing with this series.

“Music” as a series of tadpoles arranged on bars (a score) is not an indication of meaning. The bottom line is that the “human thought” is placed there. Taken one by one, notes are symbols, and if they are played simply according to the arrangement, it is widely known that they will not be comfortably heard as music. In order to improve the efficiency of a recording, a “click” is heard in headphones (from an electronic metronome), and it is a common problem that negative effects occur from playing an instrument while listening to this. Timing matches up between musical instruments and the mistakes decrease, but the resonance between instruments spreads out to reduce depth and thin out the sound.

The notes themselves don’t say anything. When the consciousness of the player, conductor, and arranger interacts, meaning emerges for the first time. When the rhythm and length of the sound intertwine, an important series of “flows” emerges to become the melody. With music, the sound of a “place” arises from the mood and atmosphere, and it becomes a game that acts upon the physiology of an audience. Live performers and an audience can share the same “air” to form a kind of communication feedback system and obtain a more advanced experience.

After all, music is “the lives of people.” Re-confirming the “human quality” should be a compelling story in any field.

Approaching the camera rapidly from an infinite distance, the planet bomb looms large.
As it fills the screen, the glowing craters are emphasized. It is a “handmade” drawing from beginning to end.

The relationship of Yamato and standard film music

This is about “music” and “fun sound.” When I listen to the music of the late Hiroshi Miyagawa, I often think, “the maestro seems to be having fun.” In particular, when I’m stalled or uninspired at work, I love listening to the album of the legendary variety show Kyosen & Maitake’s GebaGeba 90 Minutes as a refresher to bring back the fun.

(Translator’s note: the variety show mentioned here is akin to Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, and was broadcast in Japan from 1969-1971. See its opening title, composed by Hiroshi Miyagawa, here. See it live-conducted by Akira Miyagawa here.)

Through live MC talks after the death of his father, I became acutely aware that Akira Miyagawa inherited his feeling of “fun.” The “parent and child succession” is a universal part of “the lives of people.”

During the talk [at the 2012 event], Akira Miyagawa brought up this very topic and the audience’s surprise was impressive. At the “Launch Event” in February, we had a chat about the relationship of Yamato and classic film music backstage in the dressing room. Although it was light talk about things like commercial products, it was also connected again to the essence of fun and the story of “inheritance.”

In the 1960s, just before Hiroshi Miyagawa and producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki got into animation, it was the “big guns entertainment era” so to speak. In order to realize high growth and soothe tired salarymen, big band performances of live music were performed everywhere. They also appeared on TV variety shows and gave gorgeous performances. The same was true of stage plays. It was also the time of “spectacle blockbusters” in the movies. Focusing on America in particular, large-scale historical dramas were made with extraordinary budgets. Space Battleship Yamato was a descendant of that.

In the 50s and 60s, big movies were made as a countermeasure to the rise of TV with an increasing feeling of widescreen spectacle, such as Cinerama. The theatrical sequel Be Forever Yamato had its “Warp Dimension” and Final Yamato was done as a “70mm production,” each with a particular feeling of panorama that was wider than Vista, continuing the historical context mentioned above.

During this period of high growth, the music used in these masterpiece movies became timeless. Some “Screen Music” became standard numbers to be performed by live bands. Therefore, the generation of Yoshinobu Nishizaki, Hiroshi Miyagawa, and others surely considered it a common reference point of pride to say that “this music has the feeling of movie music.” That’s how the story goes. This takes nothing away from Akira’s arrangement skill, I’d just like you to be aware of it as the basis for a sense of inheritance.

The planet bomb and the red Earth are icons of Space Battleship Yamato. After flying in from the side of the screen,
it drops straight to the surface of Earth. After a short interval, the light of the explosion expands. With exquisite timing,
the second one comes in just before it fades out. Even though it is the tragedy of global extinction,
you feel an eclectic mix of beauty because of how the scale of such epic poetry is visualized.

Even though times change, peoples’ feelings continue

Still more, we should consider the “inheritance of an entertainment spirit.” In the 1970s, the high-risk, high-reward principle of “big gun entertainment” began to collapse worldwide. There was a variety of reasons for it, but the people who dreamed big during this high-growth era worked with great awareness and a generous spirit, and they didn’t just suddenly disappear. In addition to the producer and the composer, many others who experienced the gorgeous reach of entertainment’s golden age rekindled its spirit through Space Battleship Yamato, which is by no means unrelated to those big guns.

Based on this hypothesis, I would like to enrich the research with improved language. If a work starts out as “something told from person to person,” then “inheritance” is a basic element.

The show is fresh, somehow so of its time and place that you sum it up by going, “isn’t this great?” with the answer being, “Yeah, it is,” and the story is fundamentally a very simple one. However, as you cross over nearly 40 years, to a present which demands that we take it far beyond that, I think there is too much rampant analysis which just focuses on the “individual nature” aspects of it.

For example, if you just say “a Miyagawa melody is beautiful, that’s all” then the conversation ends without touching upon any of the context of what Hiroshi Miyagawa did. We can’t interview the creator for the correct answers because he is no longer with us, so if it is left unexplored, as well as the life of its beneficiary in turn, the values that should be shared will vanish. It’s a writer’s job to feel a sense of impending crisis where few other people do.

Anime creators originally had a strong spirit of craftsmanship. This spirit is sacrificed in changing times, and I know many people who feel that aesthetics are disappearing like customs in many cases. However, as a viewer, I earnestly hope that this lives on in the same way that Yamato has lived on for the last 30-odd years.

Speaking of the music introduced at length earlier, since the name of this series is after all Lessons from the Past, the “problem of inheritance” demands more than a groping analysis, and I’d like my vector of inquiry to bring awareness to a greater number of people. While this is the same vector that all the members of the 2199 staff aimed at, I have a feeling this will yield a lot of people who enjoy noticing these things and commenting on the minute differences between it and the original.

While watching a sneak peek of Episode 11 (the first part of Chapter 4) at the live concert, the surprise of “that’s how the scene goes?” was felt everywhere, and it raised the temperature of the entire event. Sharing the same thoughts as a group was like resonating with music, and such deep emotion should be prized.

After Captain Okita’s monologue, the scene changes to a flashback. The process of Earth’s destruction
is presented with calm narration. A planet bomb falls on the earlier blue Earth, but no impact is shown.
We’ve already seen a depiction of the red Earth, so it is not shown again. Instead, the next thing to be
emphasized is the catastrophe that develops on Earth’s surface, and an action-cut relationship is produced.

The exquisite sense of realism that arises from hand-adjusted photography

So, as I continue to evaluate the film production in 1974 while keeping in mind the nature of inheritance, what I keep running into everywhere is the problem of its “handmade feeling.” In May of this year [2012], during the recording of the commentary for the Space Battelship Yamato blu-ray, I heard a story about Noboru Ishiguro from director Hideaki Anno, and was deeply impressed when I listened to statements about how “this part was also handmade.”

For my friends and myself, the first episode was very special. The part that exercised the SF mind through the visualization of a space war was particularly big. It has been described already. At the beginning of the B part, a planet bomb passes Okita’s battleship, and the sequence of it falling to Earth is excellent. Of course, the visual of the ruined Earth turned red just before extinction is shocking, but the feeling of scale exaggerated by the distance of the planet bomb’s fall through the atmosphere in a straight line from space is amazing.

It hits the ground and a flash of pink (transmitted light) is generated. It grows quickly, then disappears as the second bomb comes into frame in a chilling example of exquisite timing. Because the state of the Earth’s surface is depicted with artwork in the very next scene, extensive damage should have been produced on the ground at that moment. However, as seen from the distance of Okita’s battleship, you can only stare helplessly at the scene. It is incomparably desperate and hopeless, but also beautiful.

A planet bomb strikes the ground behind a skyscraper district. The energy of the explosion is expressed in light.
The buildings go to silhouette and then almost vanish in the glare.

Any disaster can be relativized from the perspective of the macroscopic scale of space, and it was this approach with unprecedented visuals that made me feel “Yamato is SF.” In anime, such visuals are more important to an SF setting than anything scientific.

Of course, the synergy with the female scat vocal in the music was also huge and the simple spreading of light was important. Light was placed in the craters of the planet bomb by applying a mask to each of the holes. Cutting a mask for animation was difficult; several holes were punched to make a female mask, and you can notice some craters not glowing due to a mismatch in the framing,

Even so, no matter how you look at them, the impact flashes [on Earth’s surface] aren’t masks, but a single sheet. The simple form spreads, and because there is a feeling of smoothness when it fades, it provides a sense of scale. If this spreading was done with drawing, it would have looked much smaller.

This same effect was used in Episode 6 of Aim for the Top! [Gunbuster], in the scene of Buster Machine No. 3’s armor breaking, and in fact Director Hideaki Anno said the technique was handed down directly by Noboru Ishiguro. He said that the shooting method was “done by hand.”

An idyllic scene is also invaded by a planet bomb and disappears in a brutal death. It is blown away by the explosive
force and evaporates in the heat wave. Since it is processed in the latter half of the scene, it takes great damage.
The planet bomb itself is not shown in this shot, only the shining light of high energy at the beginning.

As soon as I heard it, I realized the meaning of the effect and was very impressed. The spreading motion goes out of focus. In other words, as the light effect enlarges it also fades. Naturally, the intensity of of light weakens, so the exposure was also weakened to achieve a simultaneous fade-out. And so, synergistically, you suddenly end up getting this sense of weightlessness as it fades away.

Because the lens allows both air and light to pass through, it results in a fuzzy way to fade out rather than a calculated one. When the frames are projected, it turns out that the waves of light are uneven. Since the human brain is constantly anticipating what’s going to happen next, it’s an exquisite method of showing it fade out.

Unfortunately, if you try to reproduce this digitally, the same effect doesn’t appear at all. The density and concentration of light is calculated as a percentage. As a matter of fact, the very act of developing a situation in a pre-determined way will invite a nuance of pre-established harmony into it. [Translator’s note: the concept being conveyed here is that you can spot a pre-calculated effect because it looks too planned and perfect.] The human brain has the fearsome power to subtly distinguish natural things from artificial ones.

In this case, the significance of “handmade” does not refer to “handmade” itself. For the makers of these visuals, the scenes of the events they’re drawing come from their imaginations. They observe a fantasy “other world,” bring the images back to “this world,” and the problem becomes expressing them with their own hands.

Isn’t this also how we would describe the difference between playing music on a keyboard by hand and playing it mechanically? With regard to the similar feeling of “presence” you get from the images of damage from planet bombs, it’s excellently portrayed, but I’d like to leave that for next time.

The End

Special thanks to Neil Nadelman for translation support.

In this scene, an intense blast rips into the Earth’s surface and rocks are blown upward.
This scene was remade for
2199. Light arrives first from a distance, then wind storms immediately
attack with great force, tearing up rock. The expression of ripples on the surface like ocean waves is excellent.
By showing rocks flying through from outside the frame, the impression of widespread damage is created.

Continue to part 7: The texture of an explosion finger-painted by the director

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