The unique sizzle feeling
aroused by explosions

The theatrical premiere of Yamato 2199 Chapter 6 is finally approaching. It will feature the battle between Yamato and the Domel fleet in the Rainbow Star Cluster, the same big climax as the original series – an episode in which you could thoroughly enjoy the essence of Mr. Noboru Ishiguro’s effects. Using valuable sketches, anime commentator Ryusuke Hikawa approaches a depiction of effects that is still vivid even now!

The context of the decisive battle in the Rainbow Star Cluster

The seven theatrical chapters of Yamato 2199 have been traveling in tandem with the TV broadcast, and now there are two chapters to go. Beginning June 15, the premiere of Chapter 6 will finally include the decisive battle with General Domel in the Rainbow Star Cluster. The preview attached to Chapter 5 last time featured scenes of Garmillas fighters and multi-layered carriers that got my blood pumping at the moment I saw it. The next screening will be a lot of fun.

Since the hero mecha is based on the Battleship Yamato, the original 1974 Space Battleship Yamato took a lot of its cues from World War II. The carrier battle in the Rainbow Star Cluster uses the subject matter of the Battle of Midway (June 4-7, 1942 Japan time), which influenced the fate of Japan in the Pacific War.

The purpose of the Japanese military’s invasion of Midway Atoll was to deliver a blow to America’s carrier fleet. A task force of four aircraft carriers was sent in, but a number of adverse conditions piled up, such as an infamous aircraft conversion, which lead to an unfavorable situation.

As a result, the Japanese side lost all four carriers and their planes, along with many skilled pilots, and it ended with Japan suffering a major defeat. The Battle of Midway was a big turning point just six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and has often been treated as suitable “what if” subject matter in simulated war scenarios. The problem for Yamato here is that “four carriers” are thrown into a single naval battle. Back then, Akagi and Kaga had undergone remodeling to the three-stage deck. The other carriers were Hiryu and Soryu.

The confident lineup and unexpected defeat of the Domel fleet in the 1974 edition was based on the Battle of Midway. On the other hand, the Gamilas navy was not modeled on the Imperial Navy to which Yamato belonged; instead many parts of it originated from the Nazi army. In fact, the dive bomber from the second carrier in the 1974 version was based on Germany’s Junkers Ju87 Stuka, mimicking its reverse gull-wing design.

Yamato‘s approach to Word War II is compounded in this way, and the process of spinning a new story out of this subject matter is the important point. The appeal comes from the combination of free choices. The fact that these traces are not necessarily carried out faithfully is one of the correlations that can be felt in the relationship between the 1974 edition and 2199.

When considering this context, which ideas are concentrated in the 2199 version of the Rainbow Star Cluster? The greatest expectations surface in this area.

Above right is a drawing that appeared in Noboru Ishiguro’s book TV Anime Frontline (co-authored by Noriko Ohara, 1980)
of an “explosion in weightlessness.” At left is a version from Episode 24 of the 1974 version with director’s instructions
to draw it as an explosion affected by gravity. “For the surface of Gamilas, please render the explosions as though
occurring in an atmosphere. Make them realistic.”

At left are more directorial instructions for Episode 24, including the principles of an explosion in which the temperature of the fire drops. “Unlike in space, the embers will fall like a weeping willow.” Detailed notes on the original drawing also specifically indicate how a building breaks up, with a strong understanding of the choreography between structure and effects.

This scene from Episode 24 had similar directing instructions. The principle of an explosion was illustrated as
“a mass of fire” and “the temperature of the fire drops and it becomes smoke.” “Unlike in space, there is gravity here
and the sparks fall like a weeping willow.” “Show specific pieces breaking off in the destruction. Please draw it in detail.”
As you can see, the effects are produced according to theory and structure.

The Rainbow Star Cluster was also a decisive battle on the production side

While it was based on a historical background, the Rainbow Star Cluster was also a serious “decisive battle” that had various influences on future generations. For a certain generation, “Rainbow Star Cluster” became synonymous with “decisive battle.”

However, the story of the “decisive battle” was very similar to the production side of the animation in which a struggle for resources came to have the same meaning. I hear that 2199 also had a similar situation which closely overlaps the atmosphere I experienced when I visited the studio 38 years ago.

In early 1975 I was an eleventh-grader, and on the suitable pretext of, “to thank you for the painted cels you sent to me around the end of the year,” I went for another visit to the Office Academy production studio in Sakuradai. The production list on the doorway showed 26 episodes then, and I was shocked when I heard for the first time that the broadcast schedule had been shorted from 39 episodes.

On the left side of the production room, rough images of the four carriers, Domel’s disc-type flagship, and the fightercraft had been put up. It was probably meant to raise morale for the climax. Since it was to be a “decisive battle,” the designs had to be worthy of it. Even now, I can remember having a billion thoughts about the work based on these visuals alone. In the finished product, the three carriers were the same type in different colors, but at the rough stage the shapes were all different, too.

Art director Hachiro Tsukima was talking with the staff about the color design of the carrier, saying, “The color scheme of Okita’s battleship in Episode 1 was a failure.”

What was the failure? It will be an eternal mystery, because Mr. Tsukima died suddenly just before Farewell came out in 1978, but if I had to guess it could mean that the two-tone color caused many painting mistakes. Most of the cels I mentioned before that were sent to me came from Episode 1. I had puzzled over the many superimposed cels in there that were repainted.

[Translator’s note: if significant colors had been wrongly painted in the early days, it was usually faster to fix the problem by creating a new cel with a corrected “patch” and laying it over the original cel in the camera stand. Of course, this had the added problem of increasing the cel dirt, but it was often all they had time for.]

Because Animation is collaborative, an important requirement of the “decisive battle” is to finish in a limited time with as few mistakes as possible. As a result, I would guess that this is why the three carriers became the same model, all painted in distinguishing monotone colors.

With that in mind, a balance would have been carefully considered by arranging the colors of the entire fleet to look good on screen. Again, this is just speculation, but as Art Director Tsukima prepared them for a stage of fantastic colors called the “Rainbow Star Cluster,” there is no doubt that he had to think about the combined color balance, including the cels. Part of the excitement of the decisive battle comes from its sense of color, which might seem corny in live-action, but becomes possible simply because it is expressed in animation.

More from the 1974 version of Episode 22. The great explosion caused by the reversal of the drill missile blasts
through the Domel fleet in a chain reaction. The battle carrier’s engine portion explodes, and the first carrier
collides there. The swollen fireball spreads to the second carrier. It is an impressive, multi-layered spectacle.
Since Noboru Ishiguro took charge of these shots in addition to correcting the layouts, it as an “Ishiguro effect”
of high purity. The two layouts shown at right were not used, but give the idea of a realistic explosion very well.

The decisive battle mood increases at the production site

As I mentioned in the first installment of this series, Mr. Ishiguro was determined that the Rainbow Star Cluster would “meet the challenge of using 7,000 pieces again, in the spirit of Episode 1.” I heard this from Mr. Ishiguro at that stage of production.

[Translator’s note: “pieces” here refers to each piece of art created for an episode, including cels and backgrounds.]

However, I also understood on that day that the production schedule at the time was never good. This was immediately after the Planet Beemera episode had aired (Episode 16, January 19, 1975). To explain how I knew this, the staff was watching Episode 16 in one corner of the studio on a U-matic video deck, which would have been fairly expensive back then. Also, there was a drawing on an empty desk of something like a fighter exploding, a layout of its distorted internal mechanism.

I spoke for a while with another animator (I didn’t hear his name, but I’m deeply grateful) and asked, “Which episode are you working on now?” His answer surprised me: “Episode 18.” At that time, Episode 17 was going to air in just a few days. I understood later that this was a Type-100 recon plane being destroyed by the magnetron wave emitted from a space fortress. This checks out with the credit list, since Episode 18 was done by an in-house group.

Although it was impolite of me to ask, “Will it be ready in time?” I could tell that the interval couldn’t be right, and I listened carefully. That was the moment I recognized that the staff was also in a battle. In such a situation, full animation with a challenging 7,000 pieces was like combat action to defend against wave after wave of fighters.

Tiger Pro was the studio that came up in the rotation to take charge of Episode 22. The layouts and drawing supervision of Kazuhide Tomonaga and Masayuki Uchiyama, along with the wild appearance of Domel by Takeshi Shirato (an homage can be seen in the preview for 2199 Chapter 6) gave it true quality. However, everyone contributed some parts to it, including the in-house group. If I were to analyze shots of the dive bomber pilot, the shot of the torpedo bomber firing was supervised by Kaoru Senguchi, and the characters in the final funeral scene were obviously by Toyoo Ashida.

I also associate this fact with the inside story of the “carrier explosion scene” I heard later from Noboru Ishiguro. “I drew some of the animation in that explosion shot, too. But then I ended up failing to do the character scenes I’d been assigned.” Speaking the harsh truth with a smile was so very like Mr. Ishiguro. I had always paid attention to the “pure Ishiguro explosions” in Yamato, and I knew that this one was a supreme moment.

The explosion finally destroys the third carrier. It seems to have hit the nozzle section, not visible on camera,
and a great explosion develops between the multi-layered decks.
By showing this structure in just a small number of frames, the whole explosion becomes believable.

A wide shot of the explosion that wipes out the carriers in Episode 22. The original layout is at the right. In this long shot, only Yamato moves. Detail has been omitted from the smoke. Because it is so huge, a feeling of scale comes out of this contrast.

This panning shot shows the carrier explosion in thorough detail. Using that horn-like trail of smoke in the background
like the final stroke of a kanji, the flames cycle only in the bright central part of the explosion.
This gives the impression of a catastrophe that cannot be contained.

A feeling of supreme sizzle from the Ishiguro effect

When I saw the chain explosion of the carriers with my own eyes, I came to know profound effects animation. The reversal in a story of “the enemy being wiped out in an instant” can easily look trite if one wrong step is taken. What directed the energy into a fully-realized spectacle was the attention to detail in the chain reaction, the “realistic power” of the Ishiguro effect applied patiently and precisely to the animation.

First, the reversed drill missile collides with the battle carrier, and sinks into its bridge over just a few frames. In a symbolic anime expression of an explosion, it usually ignites on contact, but this emphasizes a short “interval” in which the metal armor swells from the pressure of internal explosions. Then fire emerges from what seems to be the engine portion.

The impact on the body of the battle carrier changes its course to collide with the first carrier. The destruction of the first carrier also avoids the symbolic expression by having its deck get crushed by the impact of the collision first. The fireball explosion here erupts from the battle carrier and engulfs the first carrier. The new pressure from this explosion affects both hulls, and a double fireball fills the screen.

Next, an extended fireball leaps over to the second carrier and hits it on the side pointed away from the camera. This explosion swallows the bridge, and a still larger fireball occurs. It causes a secondary detonation of the engine, and they blend together. The flames fly across the screen to destroy the third carrier, and since this is the fourth ship to be hit, it goes up very briefly so as not to overdo the simulation. This includes a short shot of the multi-layered decks, and the physical precision of the explosion, swelling like an energetic organism, cannot be overlooked.

Finally, the complete destruction of all the ships is thoroughly shown in a careful pan shot using a long cel, while keeping the three “places” of the disaster in their proper positions. The area where only the plumes of light and flame in the center are moving provide a strong awareness of scale.

I’m sorry to make an imprudent comparison, but when I saw news footage of the Space Shuttle Challenger‘s accidental explosion in 1986, I was astonished at how similar it looked (particularly with the second carrier). Mr. Ishiguro laughed at me for being troubled by this when I told him about it several years ago, but after all it was certainly his foreknowledge and descriptive power that made it possible for him to visualize it.

The animation created by Noboru Ishiguro in this sequence was fully controlled by the power of drawing time and space, and succeeds in retaining a unique “sizzle feeling,” a stimulation that comes out of it frame by frame. As I explained in the seventh essay, “sizzle” is a word from the advertising industry to represent the appetizing drip of meat juices or bubbles in a glass of beer. It evokes a freshness of presence and expression, and is an important concept in animation, which uses inorganic materials.

When a creator is able to infuse a feeling of life into a work, including explosions and other characterizations, we think of it as “animation.” And I think that in going far beyond what is usually depicted in drawings, as in the unconventional and fluid realm of effects animation, there dwells that which is truly “never before seen and tremendously surprising.”

The “sizzle feeling of an explosion” arouses a sense of wonder in the vastness of space. It is one of the great charms of Yamato, and is concentrated at the climax of the decisive battle in the Rainbow Star Cluster.

The End

Continue to the final essay: Like a wave from the ocean, breaking on the shore and then retreating…

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Special thanks to Neil Nadelman for translation support

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