Final Yamato Commentary, Part 4

Back up to part 3

Over the long history of Yamato animation, we’ve seen the space warp rendered in many different ways from one story to the next. Of course, the first one was the most memorable, filled with as much psychedelic imagery as the staff could smoke up. Then there was the hyper-slick, almost Tron-like warp from Be Forever, which actually predated Tron by two years. The ship’s final warp, seen here, takes an equally unique approach by keeping the camera on the ship and showing it deform in a way we’ve never seen before.

In near-Earth space, all is calm. Fuyuzuki pulls up beside Yamato and the crew piles into transport ships to evacuate. Transport after transport leaves the ship for the last time. Tokugawa allows his father one last goodbye, holding up his picture and panning it across the room.

Okita commands Kodai and Yuki to switch the Wave-Motion Gun circuits to self-destruct. With his final moments approaching, he tells them to be happy and have many children. He knows their kids will be beautiful and feels he will be their grandfather. He pulls them close for a hug. Kodai fights off the emotion, and replies with stiff formality that he and Yuki will execute his command to switch the circuits.

Here we at last find the true emotional core of Final Yamato: the passing of the torch to a new generation, and the need to leave childhood behind. It was the core of the story from the very beginning, with Nishizaki’s desire for Kodai and Yuki to walk away from Yamato and enter the adult world. After much debate during story development, he decided the only character with the gravitas to make this case convincing was Captain Juzo Okita. And as wonky as Okita’s resurrection turned out to be, you have to admit that Nishizaki was correct. No one else had achieved his stature, up to and including Commander Todo.

On the other hand, it is regrettable that Nishizaki felt it was necessary to demote and humiliate Kodai in order to set up this relationship. Kodai had been shown to be a mature, confident captain in Yamato III who would NOT be shaken by the failures at the beginning of the film. Instead, a more interesting and appropriate story turn would have been to have Okita take over due to Kodai being injured, and to play upon Kodai’s conflict over this. Having matured in the military with Yamato as his defacto home would not have prepared Kodai well for life off the ship in a time of peace. Therefore, it would be Okita’s job to force him out – a job no one else could accomplish. The end result would be the same, and it would also give the fans an even stronger allegory to their own lives: it was wonderful to grow up with Yamato, but your life has to be about something more as you enter the adult world.

Once they’re out in the hallway, Yuki breaks down in tears. After some assurance from Kodai, they arrive down in the engine room. Sanada has remained behind to assist them. A large cylinder is placed in the Wave-Motion Gun barrel that expands and locks in place. The sound of this alone makes it clear that there’s no turning back.

On the bridge, Okita sits in his chair and dreams of taking Yamato to the bottom of the sea on Earth.

The last transport leaves Yamato and lands in Fuyuzuki‘s hangar, greeted by its captain. Mizutani asks where Yamato‘s captain is. The only answer he receives is an emotional look from Kodai. “I see,” he says. He reports to the bridge that all Yamato crew are aboard.

Credit where it’s due: ever wonder who did the voice for Captain Mitzutani? He’s the late Osamu Kobayashi, who did Dommel’s (Lysis) voice in Series 1, Emperor Zordar (Prince Zordar) in Series 2, Captain Yamamani in Be Forever, and Blue Noah‘s captain in Resurrection.

Trivia: Fuyuzuki‘s namesake actually survived the real Operation Ten-Go and the war – albeit with no guns available and a half-destroyed stern.

As Fuyuzuki pulls away, Yamato‘s crew keeps their eyes on the ship. Among the crew watching are two newer members from Yamato III, technician Heiji Bando and engine room worker Dairu Akagi (more Series 3 alumns appear in the epilogue). Nanbu and Ota mask their feelings well, but Aihara, always the most emotional of the crew, puts his head down and weeps.

Yamato‘s engines ignite, and the Cosmo Tigers do a flyby. As Kato passes by, he sees Okita on the bridge. The crew were told that Yamato would self-destruct on autopilot and didn’t realize that Okita would remain behind. The crew cannot believe this and orders Fuyuzuki to stop. However, they are struck silent when they see Kodai and Yuki, standing at the window, saluting their ship and their captain. They are closest to both the ship and Okita and have accepted their intertwined fates. They are joined by Sanada and Dr. Sado.

Kodai’s eyes had started welling up earlier, thinking about his captain. Now that Kodai has no further duty, his tears flow freely as his thoughts of Okita progress from the formal to the familiar, from “captain” to “father.”

On Yamato, Okita’s prayers are for the Earth to look after its children, and for Yamato to “take him where old soldiers wait.”

Aquarius approaches, its oceans churned up by its proximity to Earth. Yamato takes position between the two planets, where both forward and rear thrusters are engaged to keep it in place. A switch at Okita’s command console activates a pop-up set of Wave-Motion Gun firing controls, the first time we’ve seen them other than at the combat station. He grips the controls and looks at Aquarius through the targeting reticule. Pillars of water rise from Aquarius and fall toward Earth, creating a drenching rainstorm on the surface.

It is within this sequence that we see the heaviest use of “scanimation” effects in the film, and also its downside – once a shot entered into that process, it was a point of no return. It had to undergo the entire scan/enhance/output cycle to be completed, which added time to a production that was already pushed to the limit. The Aquarius flood was one of the last sequences to be animated, and its demands made it the most difficult. Coming late in the game, there was no time for retakes – and in at least one case, no time to finish the output.

One climactic shot in particular (below left) didn’t make it all the way to the output stage. Instead, it looks as if a movie camera was trained on a video screen to capture the image (pixellation included), which would have been the fastest way to finish it in time. Unfortunately, there was evidently no way to correct it (even for the 70mm upgrade), because it looks exactly the same in a Resurrection flashback and the Final Yamato Blu-ray released in 2013. So, what ironically started out as cutting-edge technology ended up looking worse than the filmed animation it replaced.

Yamato holds steady and Okita grips the trigger. When a gargantuan column of water approaches, Okita begins the countdown. He pulls the trigger with a shout of “HASHA!” Yamato explodes, splitting in two, then the superstructure seems to detach from the back section. The explosion causes the column of water to spread out in all directions instead of hitting Earth directly.

Before the real Yamato capsized completely, her forward magazines went boom-boom. Yamato here blew up in somewhat the same style. Also, both ships got split in two. Speaking of blowing up, Yamato here is a floating H-bomb, not unlike the nukes used to end WW2. As for why there’s a WMG trigger in the captain’s seat, said trigger was probably installed sometime in the past as a backup in case the one in the combat officer’s seat failed.

It’s hard to see behind all the scanimation effects, but poor Yamato suffers a truly horrific mangling in the self-destruct scene. Clearly shredded just in front of the bridge tower (instead of the Wave-Motion Gun epicenter for some reason), the distortion of the hull is tortuous to the say the least – certainly much greater than what is indicated a few scenes later. However, the superstructure remains intact so that Okita’s body can theoretically stay in one piece. There’s nothing logical about any of this, of course, but in order for the ship to rise up in its final scene – and be pieced back together for Resurrection – this particular shot needs to be considered an abstraction.

For several moments, Kodai looks intensely at the flowing waters. Yamato‘s superstructure emerges from the surface. Inside the bridge, a now-deceased Okita sits at his station as the bridge fills with water. His eyes are closed, a serene look on his face, as if his spirit has already passed. The camera pulls back as the superstructure leans to one side and sinks into the water. The view pulls back even further to show the mass of water, like a lake floating in space. Dessler watches the scene, tears in his eyes. Kodai and the others give the “Yamato salute” for the last time.

There is another look at the surface of the Aquarius waters, which somehow maintain their shape without dissipating in zero-g and freezing (though we do see them that way in Resurrection). Suddenly, the waters are broken by the bow of Yamato. It lets out a horn blast as it climbs higher. The blast subsides and the bow sinks back down below the calming waters.

For the record, I have the urge to weep each time this last goodbye takes place. And my spine tingles as well. I’m sure at least a few of you guys can share my sentiments.

Epilogue: Yamato‘s crew gathers on a beach at sunset. Despite the loss of their ship and captain, everyone appears happy and full of hope. There’s a new Nav Group leader (with a solid green collar) standing alongside Kodai and Yuki, but there’s no clue as to who he is. Some Yamato III vets make it to the party, namely Nishino, Bando, and Akagi. We also see faces we’ve never seen before, which is a bit puzzling since there are plenty of known characters to take their place.

The crew fades away, leaving Kodai and Yuki alone at sunset, while the a new song, Love Supreme (no relation to the John Coltrane classic), starts. There’s a bit of risque business as their clothes fade. The amount of risque-ness depends on which version of the film you’re watching. Afterward, the planet Aquarius and her namesake goddess makes another appearance to deliver a short little homily about the nature of eternity.

The note above about versions of the film refers to the 35mm version (released March 19, 1983) and the 70mm reboot that got a limited theatrical run in November ’83, which went to home video afterward. Those differences are fully documented here. You can read about the epilogue, which has an interesting story of its own, here.


So, Final Yamato. I have to admit, this one was tough to get through. It looks pretty, so if nothing else I can just enjoy the lovely scenery. It’s the story, particularly the characters, that I have problems with. Nishizaki, Matsumoto, and Eiichi Yamamoto were the main contributors to the story, so it should be a classic. Frankly, I find it a bit of a mess.

I can see what they were attempting to do here, to re-unite the family for one last goodbye. But Okita was already dead, and his death was one of the most moving scenes in the whole saga. The explanation for his resurrection amounted to little more than a hand-wave, and it turns out he was brought back just to be killed off again. His death in Final Yamato is perhaps more dynamic, but less emotionally effective.

After 77 TV episodes and 4 movies, I don’t think the writers had anything left to say about the characters. This, I think, is why we get these horrible caricatures. The melodrama is charged up 120% in order to try and make things interesting, which results in a mopey Kodai, a moon-eyed Yuki, and a sudden curveball in the romantic life of Shima right before he dies.

In Nishizaki’s words, “the son surpasses the father” is supposed to sum up the relationship between Okita and Kodai. The captain was revived, in part, to usher Kodai into adulthood. But with all that’s happened in between, this requires regressing Kodai back into the child role, something he had outgrown. He’s had the benefit of a few years of command under his belt, and now suddenly he’s a sullen, moody teenager again. It’s a ham-handed way to re-establish the old family dynamic in order to make room for Daddy Okita.

The melodrama is much too thick. I don’t have much patience for Kodai and Yuki’s romance, which should be long past this stage. Neither of them behaves like the veteran professionals they once were. Instead, almost everything said and done by these two is meant to wring heavy emotion out of the audience. I’d even say Kodai and Yuki act more immature than they did in Series 1. I like to believe the earlier Yuki had more dignity than to kill herself at the first sign Kodai might be dead. Sure, some of this is expected in a space opera, but here it’s not done with any grace or subtlety. Any prior character development is swept aside for the sake of angst. I want to see this in HD just to see if the animators painted little bite marks on all the scenery.

It’s interesting that the “son surpassing the father” doesn’t necessarily mean fulfilling a father’s wishes. Lugal de Zahl tried to follow in his father’s footsteps, and his own father killed him for his failures. His younger son, known only as “boy”, sacrificed himself to save Kodai from Lugal. The boy surpassed his father by displaying the human capacity for sacrifice. And speaking of sacrifice…

Every Yamato movie demands a sacrifice. In the then-recent stories, they were content to kill off rarely seen or new characters: Starsha, Mamoru Kodai, Sasha, Yamanami, and, in Yamato III, Ageha and Domon. Since this was to be the final movie, two long-standing characters, Shima and Okita, are the chosen ones. Shima could have had a good death scene without proclaiming his love for Yuki, which feels tacked-on.

Okita had a moving death at the end of Series 1, only to be resurrected and killed again, dying with his ship. While his second death is certainly flashier than expiring in his chair, I’d argue that it holds less emotional appeal. Also, it relies on odd plot mechanics that require Yamato to be blown up, and Okita to be on board so the trigger to be pulled manually. (Something that also bugged fans about the climax of the 2010 live-action movie.)

Also odd is the demise of the ship. It was loaded with tritium and the ship’s most powerful weapon was turned on itself. The Wave-Motion Gun has dissolved whole fleets, yet all it does to Yamato itself is break it into sections. The blast isn’t powerful enough to vaporize the ship, yet it manages to dissipate a trillion tons of water.

Since this has the title of Final Yamato, it seems the writers wanted to replay the “greatest hits.” Bring back the old crew, restore their old personalities (or close approximations), throw in an ethereal space goddess and a despicable dictator, add a little bit of Dessler, end with a sacrifice, and call it a movie. The result is an exercise in facile craftsmanship, and glides by on good will and some excellent animation.

Okay… Final Yamato, the “last” chapter in the amazing, beautiful, and wonderful history of the greatest anime series ever made. How does this film stack up against the other Yamato greats? Is this, the biggest Yamato of them all, as good as the legend it is supposed to uphold? In my opinion, it’s a clean…

Yes…

And no.

For the first part, things get a tad unrealistic. I know that most, if not all, anime requires a suspension of disbelief at one point, but personally I think Final pushed it too far. Way too far. Example: robot horses. That doesn’t rub too well with me. (Although, I must admit, the water planet part WAS okay at the very least).

Second, too many plot holes, as per my observations. Third, the film has some of the worst pacing and acting I’ve seen. Everyone’s acting feels wooden to me, and the pacing makes the film feel as short as The New Voyage despite being 70 minutes longer – and the space battles feel rushed. (To be fair, the battle between Yamato and Lugal’s fleet at about the midway point has the worst pacing. The others are much better in that respect.) Third, the new characters simply aren’t developed enough. It would have been nicer to see more of the Dengil and a few tinges of their personality. Fourth, I have to agree with Arthur about Shima’s death. It was fine that they made it as emotionally-charged as possible, but it pisses me off that Teresa didn’t at least get a mention.

But now let’s move on to the good parts. This film DID NOT become my personal favorite Yamato (and animated) movie because of its flaws, did it? First off, I declare the ship designs to be a thing of pure beauty, especially the Dengil ships. They’re almost as nicely drawn as the Comet Empire ship designs, a far cry from the bulky Bolar ships (for the record, I didn’t mind the Bolar ship designs).

Second, we all know and love the score by the late Hiroshi Miyagawa and Kentaro Haneda. Most OSTs – let alone anime film scores – can’t even come close to this one, which is the crown jewel in my opinion. In an extreme paraphrase of Jeff Goldblum, it’s “An amazing, awesome, and beautiful piece of work in the amazing, awesome, and beautiful history of film scores.” Especially Aquarius Requiem, the song played during Yamato‘s last ride. You can tell that Hiroshi Miyagawa and Kentaro Haneda really gave their all for this one, and it raised the bar big time.

Third, as Arthur pointed out, the animation is stunning. I would proudly declare it the best animation of the original series. Fourth, the historical easter eggs were great, but I think that would stand only if you’re a history buff like I am. Fourth, the fact alone that it’s basically the most epic anime motion picture in history. I’ve always loved epic films, and the scale of this movie is simply Kurosawan (or Akira Kurosawa-ish) and therefore, amazing.

Speaking of Akira Kurosawa, I have the urge, as a fan of his work, to point out that Final Yamato‘s narrator Tatsuya Nakadai was a frequent Kurosawa collaborator, appearing in classics like Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, Sanjuro, Ran, and my personal favorite Kagemusha. That should be enough to attract guys who love films for their scale.

Last but not least, I would like to say that, in spite of all its flaws, the story does get two things right: enough tearjerkers, and nothing short of the greatest goodbye an anime could ask for. If you ask me, Final served as a better finale than Farewell. 1983 felt like a better time to say goodbye to the saga than 1978, with two more TV series, a TV special, and another feature length movie in the mix. And what can I say about the heartbreaking moments? Like Yamato 2199, this film has just the right amount. Some might say the Dark Nebula movies were better as heartbreakers, but to me The New Voyage and Be Forever had waaay too much of that. To some degree, all these factors help remedy the bad ones.

So to wrap it all up, is Final a good or bad movie? I would put it right smack in the middle: an amazing movie with its own flaws. If you’re a fan on the hunt for an amazing goodbye, here it is. This is the one you want. And for what it’s worth, I proudly declare it the best animated movie of all time.

The End

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