Like a wave from the ocean,
breaking on the shore and then retreating…

Final episode

With Chapter 7, And the Ship Sailed On, the curtain closes on the voyage of Space Battleship Yamato 2199. We wonder what this work is, which makes a clear distinction from a “remake” that only retraces the past. Through the effect of a “wave” from Noboru Ishiguro, who directed the original series, anime commentator Ryusuke Hikawa approaches its true character!

The presence of thorough analysis and efforts to further update

When screenings of Yamato 2199 Chapter 6 began on June 15, there was overwhelming excitement in the heart as expected. The Battle of the Rainbow Star Cluster brought tears of gratitude as the crystallization of the “refined soul” that penetrates all of 2199.

It extracted elements contained in the original, and newly took up things that predated the original text, polishing them with the latest technology and sharpening the sense of beauty as a whole. Although it can be called “sort of a remake,” you don’t want it to be a “dead copy.” You want it to have its own “spiritual existence” by all means.

Although this writer has a history of hardware engineering, I have to emphasize the “reverse engineering” from my development experience. When developing a new product, you purchase other party’s products and study how it feels to use them, dismantling them to evaluate their contents. From the various applied techniques to the role of individual parts to mutual cooperation and mechanical ingenuity, you keep a tight grip on the pursuit. Of course, you keep patents in mind, but considering that even during the Pacific War, it was a historical fact that study of the Zero fighter by the American forces determined the entire outcome of the war, you can’t let that sway you.

Even now, when working on anime, I think the act of analyzing something through discussion is the same, in the end. The most important thing is the “sense of values” or “ideas.” How do you meet the demand of the required specifications for the product? What ideas are born as a result? As you learn, some elements are positive and others are negative. And one’s own search for novelty aims higher still.

The effort to update moves one step and then two steps forward, and if there is a precedent for a high degree of perfection, It can also lead to hellacious suffering. This is also a “battle.” The enthusiasm to overcome something has a particular connection to “preserving the soul,” and it certainly strikes a chord for the end user if it is infused with this sensibility. The turning point is between having a “spiritual existence” or being a “dead copy.” The difference is whether or not it can be described as a “zombie-like thing.”

Although I was gladdened by the “effort of updating” in Chapter 6, I also had a pleasant experience from the reaction of young audiences and teenagers on the net. Many of them said, “I was surprised to see Domel’s strategy with the teleporter machine.” I don’t know what their real numbers were, but I was surely pleased to see that the “chain of wonder” continues with this series.

What struck our hearts as teenagers almost 40 years ago moves the hearts of those who are now the same age, and is newly referred to as a surprise. This is truly joyful, and should please everyone on the 2199 staff. Although we still have to wait for the four episodes of Chapter 7, which will include the confrontation with Leader Dessler and other serious situations to be overcome, I sincerely hope that everyone will survive the voyage safely.

A missing shot from the 1974 version of the opening. Kazunori Tanahashi did the animation from layouts by Noboru Ishiguro. Yamato advances under the water surface like a submarine, the antenna above the captain’s cabin creates a wake, and the bow rises at once. The plan was for Yamato to take flight in the next shot (with the two edited together for the same movement). This shot was remade for Farewell to Yamato and became the opening shot for Yamato 2.

In the 1974 version of Episode 23, Yamato is pulled to Planet Gamilas and dropped into the “sulfuric acid sea.” Although Noboru Ishiguro corrected only part of the wave, there is a difference between the layout and the film. Since the in-betweening work wasn’t divided up as in Episode 22, Ishiguro is thought to have dealt with the animation himself and corrected it on this occasion. Yamato‘s own volume and mass form a wave that crests and breaks in the front, an effect that is carefully depicted with emphasis on physical laws.

“A fusion of technology and art” is at the core of anime’s appeal

Though it’s regrettable that this is the last segment of Yamato Lessons from the Past, there a various reasons for this series coming to an end. I heard that there has been a very strong response from the editorial department, and young readers have been full of gratitude. I was happy that I finally achieved my 38-year wish for a long-awaited analysis with full use of materials from those days. Although it focused mainly on the achievements of Noboru Ishiguro, who died suddenly last year [2012], of course I had planned various other things. If perhaps another opportunity comes up to talk about it, I hope to push the story forward after it closes here for the time being.

The first time I talked with Noboru Ishiguro about effects animation at the Yamato production office in 1975, I heard several impressive things, including the state of explosions in weightless conditions. One was, “the behavior of huge things.”

One of the charms of Yamato is the dignified motion of space ships. It took a number of drawings to achieve the “feeling of weight” by moving it as slowly as possible. “But moving slowly is like a suicidal act in animation,” Ishiguro said with a confident smile. The meaning in the work was daring to try “reckless experiments” and being surprised by the results.

It could be said that the image of Yamato was a series of reckless surprises. The will to meet a challenge produces a surprise. Speaking of the “suicidal act” of mecha drawing, it refers to the amount of line work and insane details which seem to wobble as the number of cels increases. The shape of the mecha should not appear to collapse, and color pops (painting errors) also tend to increase, which is never good.

However, this “fluctuation” changed into a “taste” that “something amazing is happening.” In live-action tokusatsu [special effects films], such things as the motion of monsters and the destruction of buildings are shown in slow motion with the use of a high-speed camera. While this motion communicated a sense of Yamato‘s weight, it simultaneously elicited that stuttery sort of real-yet-unreal presence that you only get in animation. I think the subjective visual impression of adding distortion to the drawing produced a majestic effect.

It was a short conversation, but a “sense of values” and “ideas” definitely came through in his explanation of techniques and the subtlety of know-how. The thing that resounds in my own heart is taking a phenomenon which I can see and then probing the scientific ideas within through observation and analysis, while layering on what feels logical to me. Anime is a product built closely on “technology.” Because the idea of anime itself comes from an “SF mind,” it fits my own sense of values. It gave me a feeling of resonance, simply because I myself would go on to become a techie later in life.

However, those who have a broad interest in anime as a “fusion of technology and art” are unfortunately a minority. Stories and characters are considered to be the main focus, and are often talked about in literary terms. This may be inescapable, but if a work lacks meaning AS an anime from start to finish, what you’re expressing will eventually lack substance.

In that sense, there is no mistake that “Hikawa is echoing Mr. Ishiguro” in the end. I continually struggle to describe the brilliant energy I received at that time. Now that this “Ishiguro-ness” has been undeniably inherited in the production of 2199, I want to articulate it even more. A strong sense of desire and duty has arisen.

From the view of micro-effects, such as explosions and light beams, up to a magnificent world on the macro-scale, “things accumulate through logic until they are visualized and instantly transform into a surprise.” I want to somehow continue that chain of SF-based surprises.

From Episode 23. After the previous page, the surface of the water repels Yamato once, then it drops again and lands for a second time. The wave is relatively plain in the six layouts shown at left. Noboru Ishiguro’s fix was added only to the wave (six sheets above).

The intensity of the waves implies the huge mass of Yamato, and a “drop shadow” was added to the surface of the ship. This “animation power” in the 1974 edition presented compelling things like this that ignited the imagination.

The peak of the wave and the energy of the wide open sea

There was something unforgettable in Noboru Ishiguro’s comments when he told me, “My favorite effects animation to draw is a wave. It may seem simple and uninteresting to draw waves. The thing is, it’s a weakness not to divide the in-betweening.”

When I closely inspected the countless documents I was given before the original studio closed, Ishiguro’s own layout drawings of the “waves” he described were certainly there. In Episode 23, there was a sequence of Yamato landing in the “sulfuric acid sea” (conceived as organic aqua reggia) on Planet Gamilas. There were original layouts from Episode 7 with a representation of waves in the “sea of Pluto” that conformed with the concept. They were drawn by Toyoo Ashida, who also made some major effects achievements, including the Wave-Motion Gun and the flying rocks from the planet bomb explosion.

For Episode 23, they reused elements from Episode 7 (changing the color of the ocean), bouncing once before landing on the water again, while repeatedly depicting waves with a “stickiness” to them.

Upon closer inspection, it became clear that Mr. Ishiguro only changed the waves during a production check (since they were drawn in color as an overlay). He put logical expressions of detail into practice, such as the crest of a wave, the surface of the water, and the complex process of reflection and refraction, as well as the explosions. When the huge hull of Yamato pushes through the water, an upsurge occurs. The mass peaks and collapses under its own weight, and forms the next big wave. The pursuit of such transformations was complex and precise. In addition, the flow of water draining off the hull was carefully added, concentrating all the behavior of liquids.

You could say that it was simply due to the directorial requirement that “Yamato makes a water landing,” but it ends up producing a sense of presence, as though you’re actually there. Though several drawings are consumed in an instant over the course of those frames, it resulted from the tenacity of showing the complex changes in the wave forms, which was yet another reckless challenge.

Since liquid is not an object with a clear and solid shape, it is difficult to express in cels. How to depict a wave has been a major challenge in the history of animation, a problem Mr. Ishiguro described as “interesting.”

In Episode 22, Yuki Mori drops to the floor of the first bridge after seeing the heavy bomber appear outside. Noboru Ishiguro added directorial retake instructions to the original layout by his friend Takeshi Shirato. In the original key animation art, the pose just goes from “up” to “down,” but in the retake the buckling of her knees was emphasized in the performance. Such “treatments” were put into practice not just with effects, but across the whole production.

In Episode 24, Dessler refuses a drink from Vice-President Hyss, who bends backward. At left are Noboru Ishiguro’s retake instructions, and at right is Kenzo Koizumi’s revision based on those notes. It emphasizes the feeling that liquor has been splashed onto his face. The instructions clearly describe the droplets, which indicates what the director felt was important to focus on.

From the impressive last sequence of the 1974 edition (Episode 26). The storyboard was expanded onto larger paper and became the rough layout for the scene. Time and resources were running out on the last episode, so Noboru Ishiguro himself drew layouts related to Dessler’s battleship (bridge and tubes). It managed to reached completion through various activities from all sides.

If I were asked to define effects animation, it would be “something without an established form, captured by peoples’ senses, expressed only by the trajectory of its movement.” It boils down to the “ultimate in animation.” If I were to unpack the language a bit more, the definition would be, “From an endless chain of action and reaction, people establish a common ‘image of a wave’ in their minds, built up from how they logically know water can only momentarily behave. By further utilizing that image and enlarging the ordinary to present it as a transcendent vision, the work draws you in.”

Like an explosion, waves can also be drawn in patterns, but in fact the same thing can never come up again in a physical phenomenon. An exact “one-time-chance surprise” is expressed in pictures shown one frame at a time. Manipulating time and space to create surprises must be a God-like pleasure. This is what Ishiguro described as “interesting.”

If I was to say why I think that, it’s because many of the visuals in Space Battleship Yamato that resound in my heart are frequently like those problematic waves, giving form to their “value,” to the “idea” of them. Something else of note hides behind that. A wave is a phenomenon that leads to water and the ocean, the source of life. Thinking of it within the short span of life, it has neither beginning nor end, and in fact goes on for eternity.

The energy of Space Battleship Yamato gave me a push like a “wave” in 1974, which was injected deep into the heart of the audience. Its internal pressure gradually increased and burst outward. That further resonates with someone else’s values, giving rise to the give and take of similar pressures. I think the whole thing spread out like a cascade of waves on the open ocean in a little less than forty years.

The chain of anime productions, in addition to the activities of various people outside of anime, resulted in the expansion of its achievements. I believe that, overall, this wave of resonant energy is given form in a multitude of places. I don’t think it really matters at this point when the ocean came into being. There are now discretely extant waves, centered around the work called Yamato 2199, whose peaks have been converted in high energy.

I believe that if you feel something which tells you that 2199 isn’t just a remake following the past, it’s due to this.

The waves that became scattered across the ocean gathered for a moment, and the sensation of increasing the potential energy is sublime. Of course, since the waves are all independent, they don’t have to become one. Besides, I wouldn’t want them to take on the same shape as previous waves.

The meaning of Yamato taking the form of a ship, the meaning of space being portrayed as an ocean, the meaning of setting out on a reckless voyage using the Wave-Motion Engine…getting a chance to devote yourself to something that feels too large for a single person to grasp makes you consider it a link in a giant chain that connects to something much larger, which is truly miraculous.

With a feeling of happiness that this joy can be shared by many people, I want to say farewell for the time being.

Thank you very much for your dedicated reading.

The End

Special thanks to Neil Nadelman for translation support.

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