By Ryusuke Hikawa
The TV broadcast of Space Battleship Yamato sparked a bigger reaction than expected. As a writer who embraced and experienced the real-time broadcast of the original, anime commentator Ryusuke Hikawa talks about the new possibilities for animation starting from the significance of the 2199 broadcast!
The meaning of Yamato on TV
This April was a major turning point in the history of Yamato. As I mentioned last time, the TV broadcast of Yamato 2199 started at last on April 7, and the premiere of Chapter 5, The Sorrow of Intergalactic Space, on April 13 made it a month of double impact. It was deeply impressive that the strong premiere of Episode 1 made the news.
The cars of the JR Yamanote [train] line were filled with advertisements just before the TV broadcast, and when I heard that an event stage was specially set up in the JR Akihabara station on April 5, I went to visit it. Several women did cosplay of the crew in rotation in front of a 5-meter Yamato display model, and handed out special editions of the Asahi Shimbun and Yomiuri Shimbun (which were delivered only to selected homes in Tokyo). [Translator’s note: this refers to a large-format color newspaper ad with 2199 posters on both sides. Revisit this event here.]
Many passersby stopped to take pictures. Of course, I did too, since it was an opportunity to share the impact of Yamato 2199 on-air with a large number of people in a public place and see the awareness expand. This airy “real experience” became a catalyst, and the feeling of Yamato 2199 traveling simultaneously on both TV and in the theater was that a miraculous thing had arisen.
I celebrated the on-air date by thinking, “they really did it.” I set aside all other plans in order to sit down in front of the TV in real-time, breathlessly anticipating the broadcast. As my emotions built up, I decided to hold up a camera and click it at the exact moment it went on the air. I was determined that I had to do it.
Of course, I’d already gotten the blu-ray and scheduled a recording. Nevertheless, I strongly felt that I absolutely had to do this. Cameras are evolving into smart phones. I immediately uploaded a copy of the photo to Facebook to share it with friends and acquaintances. This is firmly a part of the 21st century.
Hooray for modern conveniences and all that, but nevertheless an obsession came to life in me that, at the very least, I absolutely couldn’t let the broadcast premiere of Yamato be something I viewed from behind, reduced to just making a recording and doing image data acquisition. I had to insert myself into the space between the camera and the TV in the viewfinder. I had to physically experience the common event in real time with the rest of the viewers around the nation. As that feeling arose in a corner of my mind, I took the pictures. I absolutely have to do this, I thought.
The “broadcast of Yamato on TV every week from the beginning” has a big meaning for me. There is also meaning in the act of taking pictures. This is an embarrassing story, but even as a 55-year old, in my heart I’m still a high school student even though in my daily life and social behavior I am middle-aged. Although I’m in full control, I actually feel like those two guys are living together. Forming a personality has a serial function of overwriting memory, but there is still a parallel co-existence. During these years I’ve been associated with 2199, this is a new recognition I have obtained in response to the film.
To the “high school student me,” I wanted to say, “it’s good to have believed in this for such a long time, so let’s get together more often.” The first real-time viewing of the TV broadcast had such a meaning. Could it be a moment of bliss? It didn’t even matter to me if my exaggeration was laughed at. I just wanted to record this feeling with language close to real-time.
Since enthusiasm was particularly strong for Episode 1, which started from the same origin as the 1974 version, and also because the first anniversary of Chief Director Noboru Ishiguro’s death had just passed, I wanted to hear deep emotions in comments about the work. Each time the impact of a sequence was reproduced, such as the fleet war or the planet bombs, such thoughts increased.
The decisive battle on planet Gamilas, from Episode 24 of the 1974 version. Yamato dives into the sulfuric acid sea and fires the Wave-Motion Gun at a volcanic range for a huge reversal. In this climax, which follows immediately after the battle of the Rainbow Star Cluster, the spectacle unfolds of a Gamilas city swallowed by a pyroclastic flow. Being conscious of perspective, the buildings are swallowed one by one with different timing. Complex effects pile up as fires are started and explosions occur. One of the highlights is that director Noboru Ishiguro drew a lot of the effects animation himself.
Reproduced here are images from Episode 24 of the 1974 version, Fight to the death! God, weep for the Gamilas!! The effects scenes went on and on with the gradual collapse of Planet Gamilas as the spectacle, without getting entangled with characters. The effects and documentary images and such are what chiefly lend a realistic sense of gravitas to the images.
The term “on-air” refers to the broadcasting of electric waves once a week that diffuse through the air and disappear. It was only a symbolic expression prior to the history of TV anime. But as can be seen from these images, the concept of effects in Yamato was exceptional. Collapse, lava explosions, buildup, and the expanding chain of damage were tenaciously depicted. What gave it this feeling of “tenacity” was effects animation based on physical phenomena amplified by imagination.
It made a strong impression on the human brain simply because the presentation was full of spirit, and the significance of Episode 24’s subject matter, the holocaust of Planet Gamilas, also pierced the heart of the viewers. Therefore, even after the show’s broadcast ended, it stayed in their hearts. And while it may have weakened over the last 40 years, it gave a value to what I wanted to introduce on a blank page.
It also became possible simply because it’s a physical phenomena that is common to everyone. Carefully render it in a three-dimensional, multi-layered way, drawn to tenaciously move the emotions, and it will remain in the heart.
The values and attitudes of Noboru Ishiguro and the staff were handed down to us in the audience, and those who inherited them grew up to represent them with the latest power of expression. How will they be further handed down to a new generation? The beginning of an endless chain begins with a simultaneous nationwide free TV broadcast, but I wonder if we’ve truly won.
Noboru Ishiguro’s own effects. A smoking building is pushed into a tilted angle by heavy lava, and crumbles under its own weight when it can no longer support itself. Instead of exploding, it simply burns and its behavior conveys a three-dimensional sense of mass. By varying the structure and material properties, the indistinct and the realistic accumulate. The size of his imagination and the scientific way he did things, along with his cool-headed attitude, caused writers from those days to remember him with deep feeling.
The “opportunity for contact” with the next generation is essential
To change perspective slightly, I deeply feel the magnitude of what on-air TV means when I think about the “Yamato experience of parent and child.” I couldn’t realize this personally since there is no child in my home, but this is probably the last chance for “inheritance” by the general public.
A parent watches 2199 on TV. A child happens to pass by. “I wonder what they’re watching?” he wonders, and then, as he watches with them, he’s drawn into it without even realizing. Actually, even if he leaves without being drawn into it, it’s still okay. Just giving them that moment to make contact with it is vital unto itself.
Or it could go the other way. A child sees 2199 as one of the “new anime programs for the spring” and a parent suddenly spots it. “Isn’t that Yamato?” They are astonished. In fact, I’ve heard talk about it not having completely reached the first Yamato generation yet. They could start to watch it together. It’s good if it inspires conversation, but not essential.
The essence of it is the chance “opportunity for contact.” Though data collection tends to reduce randomness as much as possible, the random nature of “living” doesn’t go away. It must not be lost.
Whether or not that moment comes, the point in the end is that time and space are connected. Whether or not a living room can perform such a function is a question of which I’m fully aware. However, no matter much times change, the role of TV broadcasting is clearly publicity, simultaneity, and diffusion. When you think of those essential points as defined by the National Broadcast Act, that aspect will never vanish.
Therefore, I would hope that the role of broadcasting when carried out this way includes “connecting the generations.” In terms of growing the TV audience for the future, I think it has the power to connect the generations consciously and positively. It would be thrilling, and the ultimate joy of a fan, if it turns out that Space Battleship Yamato could be a pioneer again.
On the other hand, if the on-air broadcast of Yamato 2199 had been delayed by another four or five years, I don’t think it would have been able to recover. In another five years, many of those who created Yamato will reach their sixtieth birthday. If that were to happen, then the posture of retelling 2199 to bridge the old and new generations would look like trying to sell an antique. It would fall into the ranks of nostalgic manga such as Golden Bat, Norakuro, or Summer Man. That would be sad.
While wiping away the cold sweat that comes from such imaginings, I can turn my feelings toward Chapter 5. You can make trivial comparisons of what’s changed and unchanged from the old show, but while it doesn’t really matter much at this point, I’m happy that they pretty much nailed it. It is also a miraculous event. As I watched that “potential Yamato” unfold on the big screen, the “high school me” inside started to get giddy, wondering, “Am I dreaming?” It brings out tears of gratitude.
So that the scale of the catastrophe is understood, the buildings seen collapsing on the previous page are not the same as those in this wide shot. One burning building topples into the next one and so on, creating a runaway domino effect. There is no special effect or transmitted light, simply a powerful expression that depicts the phenomenon with paint and texture to enhance the nature of the tragedy.
Because lava is a kind of liquid, it is similar to drawing the effect of waves. But it has a weight and viscosity unlike water and adheres to cooler spots, so it has very distinctive movement. The differences in textures and temperatures are separated and depicted by paint alone.
The potential for a reproduction to suit the needs of the times
What is “potential?”
There are various ways to think about it, but when I remember past conversations with Yamato fans like director Yutaka Izubuchi, especially about “Yamato‘s potential as a space opera,” there are many satisfying things.
It would take too long to recite a definition and history of space opera in SF culture, so I’ll narrow it down to the important point. At the time when Yamato was first broadcast, a sort of renaissance had happened when the paperback boom expanded the SF audience in Japan to younger age groups, such as junior high and high school students.
If I were to say how the paperback boom expanded the spread of SF, I’d sum it up as “Use history as your guide.” Masterpieces and bombs, old and new, foreign and domestic, were all coming out. Just looking at the indexes of each collection and the afterwords of other books, you can half-automatically get a sense of the context. So memories of high school days going to the library and the bookstore (mainly second hand bookstores) can’t help but be pleasant ones.
The geneology that leads to present-day light novels was born of this tide. It refined tens of thousands of different methodologies for producing modern and romance novels, including vampire, werewolf, and classic gothic horror stories. In the end, the point is that you try it as a new work, but there’s a lot running through 2199 that was already in mind. Although space opera turned my head with the 1974 version of Yamato, I became more aware of it when Star Wars was released in 1978. [Translator’s note: the film came to Japan a year after its premiere in America.]
For example, when the Millennium Falcon is drawn toward the Death Star, the subtitle in those days read “magnetic field lines,” while the spoken dialogue said “tractor beam.” This term came up quite often in the field of space opera SF books I read in those days, and I was excited to experience the original language. Therefore, if Star Wars performed an update of space opera in visual culture, it’s natural that Yamato performed the same role in Japan. It lead to reconsideration of great potential.
Afterward in Japan, Haruka Takachiho’s Crusher Joe and Dirty Pair became hits in the world of novels, followed by Yoshiki Tanaka’s Legend of the Galactic Heroes. These days, Bodacious Space Pirates (based on Yuichi Sasamoto’s original novel Miniskirt Pirates) is a hit, and Legend of the Galactic Heroes has risen to the level of a stage presentation in Takarazuka. It is a time when space opera is naturally accepted. When considering the change in audience literacy that has built up over the last 40 years, 2199 Chapter 5 was able to present a vision of the “Grand Interstellar Nation of Garmillas” in the manner of a space opera.
In 1974, the image fans visualized was certainly a grand one, with the assumption of Gamilas ruling all of space with huge fleet formations and Domel receiving his new assignment at Planet Balan. Imagination swelled to fill the mind. From that image surges the deep emotion of, “where did this come from? Where is it going from here?” The ability to return to the feelings of the original audience is a real joy.
When you think about it, various “tales” have been handed down from generation to generation since ancient times, rearranged according to the demands of each time. If 2199‘s attempt to greatly deconstruct the framework of a remake is accepted, the possibility arises of future generations creating their own rearrangement. Every expectation for the ship to reach its destination will become an exquisite pleasure.
Special thanks to Neil Nadelman for translation support.