The 21st century Yamato that pioneered possibilities
Director, Space Battleship Yamato 2199 Ark of the Stars
Interview by Tatsuya Masuto
Factors of the remake project’s success
A number of TV anime and tokusatsu remakes have been unveiled recently, and while the majority of them peter out, Space Battleship Yamato 2199 – the remake of the groundbreaking Space Battleship Yamato (1974-75) that sparked Japan’s anime boom – has been widely, gladly accepted by the younger generation that was not yet born in those days. Yamato 2199 was made by General Director Yutaka Izubuchi and the generation that saw the original in real time. The “Yamato children” who fell in love with it gathered together as a staff to launch a 21st century Yamato for no other reason than the burning spirit that united them.
“It may by strange to say this, but it was done out of “love.” While the remake was definitely going be an interpretation with modifications, I wanted to respect the universality of the original. As for the mecha design, since the original designs are still world-class even now, I believed that we should channel them into something fresh that reflected their quality.”
When you look back at the original version now, there are many moments when sudden feelings of inconsistency arise, but Yamato 2199 skillfully transformed those faults into new features.
“For example, the skin color on the Garmillas side. (The Garmillas’ skin color was blue in the original, but the first Garmillas characters to appear on the Pluto base were pink-skinned.) This time, Garmillas has conquered the planets of various races to form an interstellar empire, and the concept is that the Garmillas with a different skin color are second-class citizens from a conquered nation. This was done to preserve the integrity of the original story and concepts, and I wanted to keep the story from becoming dull.”
Something else that made fans happy was the appearance of characters from the original’s numerous sequels.
“Whenever a new character appeared in a sequel, it became a case of, ‘I’ve always been on board Yamato.’ I wanted to pick up those characters by making them part of the main story from the beginning. Also, when Ryu Hijikata appeared in Farewell (’78) and Yamato 2 (’78-79), we was called a close friend of Juuzo Okita, and because they never meet in the original I definitely wanted them to meet in 2199.”
As an aside, Hijikata is this author’s most beloved character in the Yamato saga. He was Yamato’s second-generation captain in Farewell and appeared as the captain of the newly-built Andromeda in the TV series Yamato 2. After the death of Captain Okita, he fulfilled the honor of a samurai by fostering the growth of Susumu Kodai.
“Any time we write Hijikata into a script or a storyboard, he’s always cool. In fact, Ryu Hijikata is the one who again clarifies Yamato’s journey when he appears with Hajime Saito in Ark of the Stars. Even there, I could express it in a wonderful sentence that was unique to him: ‘My good friend will make it back by all means!”
The 26 episodes of 2199 were divided into seven chapters and shown theatrically in event screenings (from April 7, 2012 to August 24, 2013) and broadcast on TV from the middle (April 7 to September 29, 2013). I personally appreciated watching all the chapters on the big screen, enjoying the excitement of seeing an animation movie after a long time.
“The generation that watched the original is the one that could first appreciate it in a theater. The younger group was able to start watching it on TV, then immediately catch the finale in theaters (Chapter 7, episodes 23-26). Multiple generations rushed to the theater and the excitement rose very much. I think that was a factor of its success.”
Creating a completely new episode
In response to such a favorable reception and the special compilation movie A Voyage to Remember in the fall, Ark of the Stars premiered December 6. This is a completely new episode that takes place during the return trip from Iscandar to Earth.
“Actually, a few more return episodes were prepared for the original version, but it was close to the end when they arrived at Iscandar. (The initial plan for 51 episodes was later reduced to 39, but a slump in the ratings after the series went on the air, along with severe production circumstances, resulted in a further reduction to 26.) In 2199, we used two episodes to cover the return, from Dessler’s counterattack to the last moments of Captain Okita, Episodes 25 and 26. Still, there could have been other episodes on the way home.”
2199 is certainly rich in condensed episodes, but there is also the feeling that it couldn’t be completely contained in 26 of them and there could have been one additional arc.
“There was a desire to do another three or four episodes, even if we didn’t need another arc. Around the time of Chapter 5 (released in April 2013) there was talk of doing a feature film to mark Yamato’s 40th anniversary. The plan was to make a compilation version, but I declined. The reason was that 2199 was shown theatrically before it went to TV, so it would just be a shortened version of what had already been seen in theaters. I thought the 40th anniversary should be commemorated by a completely new work. It would be physically difficult to make a sequel in that time, but we had already built up to a return episode.”
The original could be thought of as a road movie in space, and this taste was concentrated more heavily in Ark of the Stars.
“I was conscious of that. When we tried to do one-shot episodes in the TV series, we were limited to 30 minutes, but this time I wanted to try it on a theatrical sale. Japanese animation often tends to want large-scale theatrical gimmicks, but in the overseas Star Trek series, on the other hand, the TV version and theatrical version always does complete, one-shot episodes. So I wanted to approach Ark of the Stars in a way unlike a conventional ‘Yamato feature film’.”
Perhaps Director Izubuchi felt the series was left unfinished.
“You could be right. Because the series gave priority to the parts that supported and built up the story structure, it became difficult to add self-contained, one-shot episodes, and we were forced to leave them out as a result.”
A Gatlantis fleet reappears!
In Episode 11 of the present-day work, fans recognized the reappearance of Gatlantis, the original enemy from Farewell to Yamato and the TV series Yamato 2.
“We touch lightly on it, including at the beginning of the movie, that the Garmillas side refers to Gatlantis as ‘barbarians.’ Domel’s fleet beats them in Episode 11, but when the Dessler regime collapses, the vanguard can’t return to their home nation despite the attempt to assassinate Dessler, so they’re wandering in space. They run into the barbarians and encounter a new weapon of the enemy. This shows the strength of the Gatlantis enemy in the introduction and builds up anticipation.”
What lies ahead is a three-sided fight between Garmillas, Gatlantis, and Yamato hurrying back to Earth. This alone is a lot of fun, but this time the design of a “battleship” called the Yamato is depicted in a very unique way.
“It took shape when we pursued a specific visual impact. Also, Mikage Kiryu is a character with an important role this time. She appeared as a subordinate of technical chief Sanada in Chapter 6, but was only treated as an incidental character in the TV series. It wasn’t tricky to turn an incidental girl into the heroine, because we came up with the movie story during the production of the series, and it allowed us to position a character who appears in the latter part of the TV series as the heroine of the movie. In other words, we left the door open to develop various concepts for the movie from that stage.”
Furthermore, hints from Episode 14 became elements that were also skillfully adopted.
“We depicted an episode in which a Jirellian attempts sabotage through a telepathy wave in Episode 14, and I thought we could apply that tricky element this time. However, bringing that in ran the risk of turning this into a mere sequel to the TV episode. But with more time and money to compose it as a feature film, I thought it would be possible to do it justice.”
Incidentally, when the overall series is examined, the title of Chapter 7 “And the Ship Sailed on” is close to the title of the Fellini film E la nave va [And the Ship Sails on, 1983]. Do you have a European sensibility?
“I definitely like European movies. And the Ship Sales On is out of print now, but I hope it gets reissued on DVD. In fact, I also incorporated images from Hertzog’s Fitzcarraldo (’82) this time.
After all, I link all the things I like into Yamato, and among them this time I was able to add some mythological characteristics. If I can rediscover the appeal of the original Yamato and develop further possibilities for Yamato, I’ll be very glad if you can feel it, too.”