A chain of attack and defense produces suspense

By Ryusuke Hikawa

The TV broadcast of 2199 has started, and an expansion in the Space Battleship Yamato fan layer is expected. The history of Japanese animation changed completely with the appeal of this innovative series that involved “development” and “succession.” Anime commentator Ryusuke Hikawa talks about the half-century of progress of anime TV series in Japan, and the late Noboru Ishiguro, who was its embodiment!

The attempt to connect the past to the possibilities of the future

The trailer for Yamato 2199 Chapter 5, The Sorrow of Intergalactic Space, has inspired a buzz. It compiles Episodes 15-18 of the TV series, which was a block of self-contained episodes leading toward the intermediate target of Planet Balan in the 1974 version.

However, the trailer is packed with unused elements such as a different wave-core capsule, a rebellion on Yamato, political changes on Garmillas, etc. In terms of introduction, development, turn, and conclusion, there is a sense that the “turn” has begun. It’s self-evident when you watch it that 2199 has a new freshness while emphasizing the origin of nearly 40 years ago, and moving beyond the “contradictions” is an ambitious trial. It is natural that “development” of the origin is somewhat risky. I feel deep sympathy toward the posture of fearlessly aiming for a great height.

It is also very impressive that the long-awaited TV broadcast will start just before Chapter 5, on April 7 [2013]. When I first heard that it would be part of “5 day” (broadcast at 5pm Sunday on MBS/TBS affiliates), I felt a shiver. Eleven years ago, Mobile Suit Gundam Seed was broadcast (it was the “6pm Saturday” slot at the time), promoted as “the first Gundam of the 21st century,” and it was the slot that issued a consecutive hit with the subsequent Full Metal Alchemist. As a result, there was an overall rejuvenation of anime fans lead by magazine readers, and the spread showed an increase in female fans. Afterward, new works in that slot were continuously aimed at the teen layer.

Mine was the first generation of TV anime (the audience that started with Mighty Atom [Astro Boy] in 1963) that experienced an “anime boom” in the 1970s, and I witnessed the same exact development with Seed and Full Metal. The symbolic work at that time was none other than Space Battleship Yamato, the full-scale theatrical hit in the summer of 1977.

So, of all things, they took the challenge of presenting Yamato to teens of 2013 by choosing the “5 Day” broadcast slot. From the business point of view, 2199 has already been successful in the two-week theatrical runs and blu-ray sales. Though it has yet to conclude and there are still unknowns, including its final evaluation, it is a larger-than-expected hit that has influenced the planning of other works. And so, while this may not be the best way to put it, they took the attitude that the TV broadcast was pretty much a fait accompli at that point.

In the theatrical screenings of 2199, I’ve definitely felt that the average age of the audience has been too high. I can’t talk too much about that, since I myself raise the average, but it means that General Director Yutaka Izubuchi’s stated goals to the staff – “I want the audience to see it as a new work” and “I want them to know the greatness of Yamato” – might not be achieved. Just when I started to think it was unfortunate but inevitable…I heard about the “5 Day” broadcast and immediately found that the parties involved did not want to dismiss the success thus far. The subtext of the original held that “breaking through into unknown space is a belief in tomorrow,” and this is surely the other end of the chain that was imbued by that pioneering spirit.

Once again, Yamato is charged with the role of “changing the era”, challenging things in the present tense. I’ve never been happier. Whatever outcome, the chain of relentless challenge is the important thing.

These four images are from the storyboard of Episode 7. In the vicinity of Pluto where bitterness was once tasted, Yamato intercepts a barrage of giant missiles. As the missiles home in, Yamato fights back with interceptor missiles and pulse lasers. Instead of hitting them directly, the barrage comes into contact with a finely-portrayed curtain of fire diffused in every direction. The development that some missiles evade it increases the realism.

Stills from the scenes that correspond to the storyboards. The missile barrage is fired and trails smoke while the next shells are loaded into the launch tube. They spread out at a moderate interval so as not to misfire. The entire background pops to white at the moment of explosive contact, and the detail in the art of the explosion becomes a silhouette. There are also missiles that go off in a chain reaction. The forms of twisting smoke are a characteristic of an Ishiguro explosion.

The feeling of a chain supports the suspense of intercepting missiles

Another deeply impressive feeling is linked to the 50th anniversary of Mighty Atom this year. “TV anime” began as a 30-minute TV series with Mighty Atom (’63), which brings us to half a century since the impossible became possible with an “original weekly TV anime broadcast” and business developments that included the merchandising of related products.

TV broadcasting was a new media in a rapid growth period back then, and after riding the uplift of that first-stage rocket ignition, anime was able to climb higher. Space Battleship Yamato appeared ten years later, and the “first TV anime generation” that had watched anime since it arrived was boosted even higher on a second-stage rocket.

When we look back on these 50 years, the length of time is around a “1 to 4” ratio, with the computer game era coming in the next ten years after the second-stage ignition. Although it didn’t continue going up, it also felt like a state of equilibrium that would not fall. Of course, the power of expression increased and there were many challenges for writers, and a deep emotion can be felt from the fact that anime culture has spread around the world.

However, in order to be spoken of in terms of “pre- and post-“, I have a feeling a show has to be revolutionary, as in Evangelion-level, continuing its ascent to reach a similar sort of height and orbit. While you’d like it to just keep going higher and higher, the fear lately is that even a rocket gradually consumes its fuel and eventually sputters out. It is said that mass media is in decline, TV included, and the deaths of people who were involved with anime at the time of the first-stage rocket leaves a stronger impression every day.

Although there’s no telling whether or not a third-stage rocket can be lit, I’d like to at least maintain altitude and stay in the air. Therefore, since individuals have only a limited time, what continually comes to mind are the keywords “chain” and “succession.” The development called “evolution” may seem unlikely at first glance, but that is definitely not the case. The English word “evolution” contains the word “volution,” which means “rotation” or a “rolling motion,” or a rotational movement that typifies the continuous struggle to evolve. It is also the providence of nature that a “spiral” is the key, including the shape of DNA. A round-trip rotation is needed, as well as sustainable energy and improvement…but I will stop digressing and return to the 1974 version of Space Battleship Yamato.

A continuation of the storyboard. The pulse lasers are fired in a salvo at the missiles that passed through the initial barrage. The impacts ripple across the surface of the missile (like a sewing machine), creating a great set-up for an explosion after critical mass is reached. Furthermore, the guns automatically track the missile as it approaches, and destroy. Since it is close to Yamato at the time, the change is depicted as the trajectories cross. Some debris penetrates the stern exterior, and it lights up from the damage.

The original layout art of the missile’s surface being sequentially disrupted. A trace machine was used to show the holes opening up in numerical order. The instructions indicate that 18 cels are to be made in accordance with the number of holes, from 1 to 18.

In Episode 7, which I made reference to last time, Yamato starts a counterattack against the Gamilas base on Pluto, which includes the launch complex of the planet bombs. The Gamilas side fights back with battleships and a barrage of ultra-giant missiles. In the depiction of going to eliminate the powerful enemy that caused such torment, we are shown that Yamato has strength enough to bear the hope of mankind, and suspense rises as it enters the firing range of the Reflection Satellite Gun. We worry a little about the Gamilas side scaling down its forces, but since their purpose is to lure Yamato into their midst, the flow feels appropriate.

In the scene, seven ultra-giant missiles must be intercepted, and by using the main batteries, interception missiles, and pulse lasers, Yamato makes full use of its armaments to fight back, except for the Wave-Motion Gun. This becomes the highlight of the first half. The concept of a “chain” and “cooperation” can be strongly grasped. One of the attractions of Space Battleship Yamato is “weapons depiction,” and the attention to fine detail became a popular topic of conversation. It is expressed by an accumulation of “setup.”

For example, after the interceptor missiles are fired, the viewpoint changes to inside Yamato and the next round is shown being loaded. These shells will self-destruct rather than hit the enemy missiles directly. If the enemy missiles come into contact with the smoke of their self-destruction, they’ll be destroyed. In other words, the defensive missiles are deployed as a “barrage” against the incoming missiles. Furthermore, the pulse lasers carry out a machine-gun strafing to prevent evading enemy missiles from getting closer, so it turns out to be the setup for a two-step tactic.

The first time a viewer sees this assembly of shots, the audience asks, “why did they self-destruct?” (To deploy smoke!) and there is a rhythm like breathing. What is seen is contained within a screen, so the changes in “time” and “space” become an issue. The scenes are particularly conscious of the spatial distances around Yamato. The missiles that slip through are shot at point-blank range in the end, and the debris creates damage.

In the real world, the digital phenomenon in a computer game of a target disappearing when hit almost never occurs. There is always a process of buildup with reciprocating movement like catching a ball, a gyration which involves both parties. At the end of the repetition, there are conclusive results. It depicts a cooperative motion.

In this scene, it happens in a short time, and the depiction “builds up fun” with the process. I believe that the so-called “Yamato-ness” dwells in such a process.

The pulse lasers take out the last two missiles. Since Yamato is located close by, a sense of urgency is portrayed by the composition.

The last shot barely succeeds by hitting the enemy missile at point-blank range. The impact is depicted by filling the entire sky with white from the explosion. The flow of debris flies toward Yamato‘s stern.

The concept of a chain of time exceeds half a century

The ideas that were plunged into anime expression as specific images in the first Space Battleship Yamato series came from Chief Director Noboru Ishiguro. As the images pile up, the passion and tenacity of purpose become a “chain” that turns this world, and the concept comes through that there are no standalone ideas.

Putting it into context, when the anniversary of Mr. Ishiguro’s death was observed last March 20 [2013], my feelings of regret increased when I wanted to hear how he might describe the “50th anniversary of Atom [Astro Boy].” This is because the title of Ishiguro’s graduate thesis was “the Future of TV Anime.” People who would write a paper on TV anime must have been very rare at the time. I’m interested in knowing what his vision of the future was after that, and whether Yamato was one of the realizations of those possibilities.

In order to write about Mighty Atom, the young Mr. Ishiguro visited Mushi Pro [Osamu Tezuka’s studio] time and time again, collaring the young directors and animators to question and critique, and then he wrote about it. He’d send them notes about the content of each week’s broadcast, analyzing it and asking questions to clarify points of the production. Because of this, I feel it is close to my own research techniques on anime and tokusatsu begun as a student.

When I visited the production studio of Yamato in Nerima, Mr. Ishiguro always treated me kindly even though working all-nighters should have been hard on him, and when I figured out the reason, it went right to my heart. Although Mr. Ishiguro and I were 20 years apart, it’s possible that he might have projected himself as a youth onto me.

Before long, he would be appointed as the director of the 1980 remake of Mighty Atom. As a young animator for this series, recognized by Osamu Tezuka-sensei as first in line to do background animation on the remake, he was fully loaded with ideas on how to do a new version, to say, “This is how we do it now.” Such an attitude would have played many parts in leading up to 2199. Once again, I regret from the bottom of my heart that Mr. Ishiguro never got to see it. After all, I think it is further proof that the “concept of a chain” permeates the body that inherits it.

One shot is connected to the next, and a “meaning” emerges, just as a person is connected to a person and a generation is connected to a generation, and meanings of a higher nature are born. It may raise the altitude of the rocket a bit more as it passes through the same orbit. And so, Mr. Ishiguro connects with “people” beyond the obstacle called “time,” his great work burned into history across the 50 years since Atom.

Over the past two years, I happened to be in charge of the selection committee for the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Tokyo International Anime Fair. When making the final selection, the policy is to honor “a person who made a significant contribution over a long span,” and I argued that it was deserved by a person who left a “chain” of work behind. Of course, it could also be called the return of a favor, but that’s a tiny thing in the face of half a century. When we look back at all his masterpiece titles, it’s hard to believe we could have the next half-century without them.

Here is an excerpt from the manuscript for the Anime Awards pamphlet, which I wrote with deep emotion. I want you to enjoy the Yamato of “now” while considering the great chain.

“It is deeply moving to award the prize to Director Noboru Ishiguro, who died in March, 2013. In addition to his numerous list of works such as Space Battleship Yamato, Macross, and Legend of the Galactic Heroes, he also performed distinguished service by giving a chance to such colleagues as Hideaki Anno, Ichiro Itano, Shoji Kawamori, and Haruhiko Mikimoto. When I myself was taught kindness by Mr. Ishiguro at the Yamato studio, it became the origin of my activity. I would like to praise his influence of bringing people up and energizing the industry with the magnitude of his personal character.”

(Mr. Noboteru Yuuki, the character designer of 2199, was another talented person among countless others discovered by Mr. Ishiguro, but this was omitted on account of space.)

Noboru Ishiguro (animation director) wins the 9th Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2013 Tokyo International Anime Fair

On March 23, the anime awards ceremony was held on the big stage. Animation director Noboru Ishiguro, who passed away suddenly on March 20, 2012, was honored with the 9th Lifetime Achievement Award, and his wife Yumi Ishiguro accepted the trophy on his behalf. This was the recommendation of selection committee chairman Ryusuke Hikawa, who was glad that the committee recognized that in addition to directing such works as Mighty Atom (1980 version), Macross, Megazone 23, and Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Mr. Ishiguro also gave many chances to the next generation, because animation is a collaborative art.

(The bottom photo of Mr. Ishiguro and Mr. Hikawa was taken in 2000.)

In Memoriam: Mr. Goro Naya, voice actor for Juuzo Okita

Goro Naya, the actor who played Captain Juuzo Okita of Space Battleship Yamato, died on March 5 [2013]. He was 83 years old. He was affiliated with Theater Echo. He was also famous for the roles of Police Inspector Zenigatta in the Lupin III series, regularly dubbing the voice of Charlton Heston, simultaneous parts in Ultraman A and Kamen Rider, the dubbing of actor Nick Adams in Destroy All Monsters, and enough other roles to go on forever.

When the voice recording of the last Yamato episode was mobbed by fans in March 1975, recording supervisor Atsumi Tashiro generously allowed them into the mike studio, this author included. Mr. Naya responded warmly to requests for autographs. I was allowed to take a photo (forgive the blur, no flash was allowed), and I think the photo is the first public exhibition of him saying the line, “Earth…such good memories.” His sublime performance was a showstopper. On behalf of everyone, thank you.

The End

Special thanks to Neil Nadelman for translation support.

Continue to part 10: Depiction of effects with awareness of physical phenomena

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