Outside the Wald 9, December 2010
By Gwyn Campbell
On the evening of April 17, the Wald 9 cinema in Shinjuku played host to a special screening of Yamato 2199 Chapter 1, followed by a talk show. Titled, “Lots of Yamatalk!” the guests in attendance were General Director Yutaka Izubuchi and Chief Mechanical Director Masanori Nishii.
Behind the guests, three producers fielded Twitter questions. Guests were asked to refrain from tweeting until the end of the talk. The Producers also had final say over what Izubuchi was and wasn’t allowed to talk about–they looked pretty nervous most of the time!
Prior to Izubuchi and Nishii’s arrival, audience members were allowed to submit a question or comment. Some were chosen to be answered and one of those received an autographed poster.
Starting off by asking who had seen Chapter 1 at the cinema more than once, Izubuchi was surprised to see that 30% or so had seen it 3-4 times and some had even seen it more than 5 times. Thanking everyone for their support, he sat down and the MC (named Mr. Kobayashi) started by discussing the history of Yamato 2199.
First experience with Yamato:
A dedicated fan since he watched Series 1 in 1974, Izubuchi started working on Yamato III as a designer (see some of his work here) when he was 21 years old. He also worked on Final Yamato.
For Nishii, however, Yamato 2199 was his first experience working on the franchise. He had originally heard about the possibility of the project from Izubuchi back when they were working on the Toward the Terra TV series. At the time, he said he’d like to work on Yamato if it ever actually happened. Then the project became reality and he asked to be involved.
Izubuchi: Nishii had been working at Minami Machi studio during the production of Toward the Terra (this studio has since closed) along with studio Xebec. Actually, Minami Machi had originally been approached before Nishii started working there to see if they could work on Yamato Resurrection. I had originally been in the running to work on Resurrection, but would not have been able to handle both it and 2199. For those who might not know, there were three Yamato projects in production simultaneously — Resurrection, 2199, and the live action movie. While these three productions ultimately weren’t completed as expected, the original plan (as agreed to by the distribution agency) was to release 2199 first, then Resurrection, then finally the live-action. But then some problems arose regarding the distribution agency and–
[At this point the Producers stepped in. It was time to change the subject.]
MC: the long and short of it, though, was that the productions were made and came out in a different order, right?
Izubuchi: Correct. Although at one point I was given the script for Resurrection by Yoshinobu Nishizaki, and asked for my impressions. I wrote these up and emailed them but ultimately Nishzaki probably never read them. Chances are they were probably were stopped at some point in the chain and never got to him.
One of Izubuchi’s impressions was that it might be good to include some more explanation as to what Yamato was. This idea can be seen in 2199, which was made with a wider audience than just the original fans in mind. Having said that, there are 2199 viewers who have been following the franchise from the beginning, viewers who joined from Farewell to Yamato, and still others who started with Resurrection. As a director, his intention is to respect all the major elements/points of the original. He is not sure how well this will be received by fans of the original, but hopes to keep as many of them on board as possible.
As far as Chapter 1 is concerned, his key concern was to keep the flow of the story balanced and not skipping any of the original’s key beats, while at the same time keeping things as logical as possible. The problem is always that when you introduce new elements to the story you then end up having to go in certain directions rather than others, especially where the rhythm of the story is involved.
Nishii: The basics of what Izubuchi wanted to keep and what he wanted to change were mostly in his head [at first] and of course not all the staff involved in the project had the same opinion, so it was necessary to sit down at the planning stage and hash out what would change and what would remain.
Izubuchi: This meant that deciding upon the initial story was the most difficult part of the production process, but it was also quite fun. I sat down with script writers Ohnogi, Morita, and Murai to accomplish this. Some points were easy to agree on, but for others some had strong personal opinions. For example, while it has yet to make an appearance in 2199, the original Yamato included an encounter with the drill missile, right? What are we to do about this? Some said there’s no way to do the drill missile, whereas others were of the opinion that the show wouldn’t be Yamato without it. As for what we decided to do, please look forward to the result in a future episode.
MC: Did any issues like this occur in Chapter 1?
Izubuchi: Nothing that had the same impact and stirred up as much debate as the drill missile, but there was the issue of the giant bomb that appears at the end of Chapter 1. There was some discussion about what sort of tremendous power it would need to have, what effect it would have if it hit where Yamato was supposed to be, etc. As for the shape of it, while it’s called a bomb, it’s really more like a bullet. It has threading on it. Since that was clearly visible we needed to rotate it, although in this case we only rotated the outer surface.
MC: If you pay attention, Yamato 2199 has a lot of this sort of detailing, doesn’t it?
Izubuchi: That’s right.
Nishii: Certainly. If you look at the mecha in particular, I’m sure many peoples’ first reaction is that must have been difficult to do.
MC: WAS it difficult?
Nishii: Yes. We used CG models as a base, but the detailing was all done by hand. When you think about it, there’s not much anime like Yamato these days. “SF anime” are usually stories with robots, but there’s nothing where a ship is the focus of the story. In other words, it’s the first time something like this has been made in quite a while, and there was some concern about whether we could get the mecha right since it’s not a robot anime. We had to think about how to properly show the “Yamato-ness” of it.
MC: How would you define “Yamato-ness?”
Nishii: While the experience might differ for new fans, those who are already fans of Yamato have a sense that certain images and sounds are irrefutably Yamato. So it’s a way of showing things. This may differ from person to person, but some elements have a sense of “THIS is Yamato.”
MC: Is there anything in Chapter 1 that you think is a good example of this?
Nishii: The final shot. [Yamato with the explosion cloud in the background.] There’s no other image that we could possibly end the chapter on. The impact of that shot in the original was immeasurable. If you think about it logically, the way the ship is moving, etc, the angle of the shot isn’t all that realistic. But we had to have that shot. If we went with something more realistic, it wouldn’t be Yamato. So we need to make sure we keep this kind of key visual intact.
MC: The first impression one has [upon viewing 2199] is that the level of detail of the mecha has increased. How do you decide the mixture and detail of the CG models and hand-drawn details? Are there certain elements that must be drawn by hand?
Nishii: Basically, when we make the CG model, any elements that need to move are included. We don’t really add anything by hand to the moving parts. However, shots in between those with moving parts–stills, pans, etc.–have extra detail added to them by hand. Within these there are shots done almost entirely by hand, and others where 2D detail is added to CG models.
MC: About what percentage would you say are done by hand?
Nishii: Quite a lot. Although once you decide to add 2D, that means that the work has to be done on cels first and then scanned and added to the CG. There’s related work that then needs to be done with the resolution as well. In the end, I’ve heard it said that this method results in more than five times the workload of a normal anime production. I’ve had people tell me it was impossible and get quite angry with me.
MC: Was this requested by the director?
Izubuchi: At the storyboarding stage we probably touched generally on how much detail was wanted, but I think that Nishii then had to try doing stuff by hand and gauge the work required.
Nishii: Yes, we didn’t really know at first, so we had to try it and see. It wasn’t really until we finished Chapter 1 that we realized how difficult the process could be and got a feel for it.
Izubuchi: Having said that, the Earth fleet appears in Chapter 1, fighting with the Gamilas fleet, so there were more mecha/ships than usual. Once Yamato launches, enemies tend to attack it one at a time so it’s not as difficult to improve the level of detail on enemy ships. Also, once the series got underway, we built up certain elements that were reusable. So in that respect, Chapter 1 was a lot tougher than the norm.
MC: Izubuchi was a mecha designer before becoming a director. Is it difficult working under him?
Nishii: Yes, because as as a former mecha designer, he has an eye for mecha and absolutely doesn’t compromise. On a normal series, there tends to be limits on how far we can go, but for this his limiter is off.
Izubuchi: Back when I did Rahxephon, I had to limit myself quite a bit and tried to keep the best quality possible while removing what wasn’t strictly necessary. In doing so, I became quite frustrated.
MC: So this time around…
Izubuchi: Well, I still have my limiter on a little, but keep in mind I’ve been making 2199 for four years now. I feel strongly that this is a series that has to be done right, visually and otherwise. On Rahxephon we had a very good storyboard artist, so there weren’t many changes later on. This time I did a lot of work on the script myself so it wasn’t so much a matter of making changes as the fact that I kept rewriting things. It reached the point where I starting feeling pressure about whether or not we could stay on schedule. But there were times where I just had apologize and say, “I have to do this.” Maybe if it was any other series, I’d get to a point where I’d just say, “this is good enough.” Toward the Terra was like that, but this wasn’t a bad thing since that series was not as focused on mecha.
Nishii: But as the audience here today knows, when you do detailed mecha it’s interesting to watch three or even four times at the cinema on the big screen.
Izubuchi: Actually, I have to admit I’ve only seen it twice. But it was at an older cinema and the sound wasn’t so good. I’d really like to see it again, but I’m pretty busy…
MC: In Chapter 1, Yuki explains how, when humanity made first contact with Gamilas, they tried to negotiate. So in 2199, Gamillas didn’t just attack Earth without warning?
Izubuchi: The original Yamato was the same. It was mentioned in the narration. So there must’ve been talks between Earth and Gamilas at some point. This time we just made that point clearer.
MC: In the Battle of Pluto it seems that this is far from the first battle with Gamilas, and that there have been previous battles.
Izubuchi: As is mentioned in the narration, Earth managed to just barely hold out against Gamilas in past battles. And they probably managed this due to some sort of new weapon that, while not the Wave-Motion Gun, was related to Yamato‘s development at the time.
MC: In connection to this, I noticed that during the Battle of Pluto some weapons were effective against Gamilas and others weren’t. There were different types. Is this related [to the previous point]?
Izubuchi: Well, this is where things get difficult. There are things that might not have been in the original that, if we were to include them, could either cause a backlash or blow the length of the show out. If I could, I would have loved to show the entirety of the Battle of Pluto. [Explaining why some weapons work while others don’t, etc.] If I was ever asked to do Yamato 2, I think it would be a challenge. [Because of all the new stuff Izubuchi would want to show.] But on the other hand, I think a prequel to Yamato would be interesting; how Pluto was originally lost. I think there is definitely a good story to be told there. I’d love it if I were allowed to do it as an OVA. [Original Video Anime.]
MC: Do the rounds from shock cannons twist more than they used to?
Nishii: Yes. If you look at the original Yamato, the rounds were originally drawn as if they were twisting, but actually the ships in combat were too close together so the rounds impacted before they started to twist. Normally, the three rounds are supposed to twist together into one.
Izubuchi: In the original Yamato they do twist, but in the sequels they actually don’t twist like they are supposed to! Back when I saw it I thought, “What is this? These aren’t really shock cannons, they’re just normal ones!” Having them twist properly, it just feels right. It’s hard to make out and they don’t always show it, but if you look closely at the original the cannon rifling is threaded so that the rounds will rotate. Like I said, having each round rotate then twist together feels right…right? [Crowd agrees.]
MC: And then, ultimately, you have the rotating drill missile, right? (laughter)
Izubuchi: I’m sorry but the missile is the bit that would need to rotate, not the drill, but…
MC: Well, I’m looking forward to seeing how you handle that. Regarding Yuki, in the original she resembled Starsha, but in Chapter 1 of 2199–and this may be my imagination–there seem to be hints that there is something behind this resemblance.
Izubuchi: Well, I’ll leave that up to your imagination. It could be a coincidental resemblance or it could be something more.
MC: When you see the crew boarding Yamato for the first time, there are clearly covers on the engines. Are there many of these small changes/details that you paid attention to?
Izubuchi: Yes, these are things that Junichiro Tamamori, the mechanical designer of Yamato and the Earth forces, paid attention to. He would often present suggestions as to how we could get certain things to work. Like, for example, the rocket anchor.
MC: How will you utilize low/zero gravity in the series?
Izubuchi: In a few different ways. In particular, I’m looking to introduce more variety into how the Cosmo Falcon launches. Instead of having it fly out behind and turn 180 degrees, we are going to have it drop out from behind [facing the correct direction] then accelerate forward. The Cosmo Zero will launch from catapults. The Cosmo Zero is kind of a mystery in the original show. But anyway, we are looking at having different fighters launch in different ways.
MC: In Chapter 1, a Wave-Motion Barrier is mentioned. Does Yamato have some sort of barrier [shield] in 2199?
Izubuchi: Actually, an energy barrier wouldn’t really be very Yamato-like. At most, we would be looking at something that coats and strengthens the ship’s plating. Something that flares a little when directly hit. As to why we bother with something like this, going forward with the series, Yamato gets into battles with a huge number of ships during its journey. Thinking about it logically, it’s impossible! (laughter) Some may say that it’s not Yamato if the ship doesn’t get messed up all the time, but that’s a little different from my image of Yamato. While it needs to be damaged to some extent during battle, first its barrier will need to be destroyed. I mean, in the original series the Gamilas fleet was 3,000 ships! Although I often thought, “Where did the rest of those 3,000 ships go?” (laughter) We are also thinking logically about things like this.
MC: Shulz speaks in a different language with subtitles at one point. Is he actually speaking a language?
Izubuchi: This actually is a language we made up. In my free time, I made a pretty big list of words that I knew would be necessary, such as Tank (Sarusha), GO! (Suback!), etc. After this, we asked a linguistics professor who was a friend of one of the staff to fill in the rest; other words, grammar structure, etc. We gave the “translated” lines to the voice actors so we could make sure they got the intonation right.
This wrapped up the questions for the evening. For final comments, Nishii noted that there are still 24 episodes and six theatrical screenings left, and he hoped everyone will enjoy the rest of the series.
Izubuchi mentioned again that, like Yamato, there was a tough one-year journey ahead for the staff. They will be doing their best to keep the series fresh, and they welcome feedback from the fans. The plan at this point is to do more “Yamatalk Nights” as the series progresses, so there should be ample opportunity!