Broken Promises, Renewed Hopes.
Remaking anything is a bit of a risk.
Remaking one of the seminal moments of any point in history is fraught with real danger.
Remaking something that stands alone artistically, culturally and something over which two titans of the animation industry were willing to shed blood is just asking for trouble.
Whether you know it as Space Battleship Yamato, Star Blazers, Starship Intrepid, Star Patrol or any of its other titles round the world, ‘Yamato’ (its collected TV series, films, and comics) is perhaps one, if not the most important, piece of popular culture to come out of Japan during the golden age of anime in the 1970s. The first animation to win a Seiun Award and the first Japanese series (arguably) to achieve superstar status outside Japan (though not the first to be sure), Yamato became the Gold Standard, and a training ground for young minds who would themselves go on to become creators in their own right.
‘What if?’ is, as the saying goes ‘a game for scholars’, but… Who knows where we would be without this futuristic turn to the past. I do not suggest that without Yamato there would not be that great turn towards the realistic which anime (especially SF anime) took in the late ’70s. However, when you listen with your own ears to people like Anno Hideaki, Miyazaki Hayao, Otomo Katsuhiro, Sonoda Kenichi, Kawamori Shoji, Tomino Yoshiyuki, and Syd Mead (among many other creators) crediting Yamato with influencing their own work, you start to question just what ‘the future’ of anime, manga and visual futurism in general would have been without this battered old warship, cast into an almost Homerian space epic.
Perfection and Imperfection – Trouble in the Heavens
(Old hands can skip this Yamato 101 😉 )
The original concept for the show was developed by the producer Nishizaki Yoshinobu, who got his leg up into the anime world working for Tezuka Productions company Mushipro, producing the series Triton of the Sea (1972) and Little Wansa (1973). Though not absolute flops – and later being reassessed as classics, especially in the case of Triton – the anime versions of Tezuka’s manga did not perform well on release. However, what caused Nishizaki most trouble was an apparent error in his handling of the copyrights associated with the works which appears to have locked Master Tezuka himself out of the TV production of his own works.
I do not know exactly how this went down, so if any Tezuka fans can shed light on this mess, please comment below as I would like to know more about this.
However, what I do know is that as a consequence of this mess, and a chastisement by Mushi-Pro, Mr. Nishizaki learned his lesson about copyright very well and created something of a raw nerve in him which would later come back to bite all Yamato fans on the engine ports when the series came under the legal hammer as a result of conflict between its two creators.
Clash of the Titans
Initially, Nishizaki seems to have conceived of Yamato as what fans describe as ‘Lord of the Flies in Space’, with the crew of the ship Icarus (a mined out asteroid, fitted with Star Drives) slowly descending into paranoia and internecine conflict during the course of their critical mission to find the near legendary planet Iscandar. A good idea in itself, if a little bleak and very, VERY Greek, in the Athenian Dionysia sense.
However, the commissioning companies Academy Productions and Yomiuri TV felt such a gloomy series would not have enough appeal across the targeted demographic (early teens to young adults). To address this, and provide some more experience, the established manga-ka Matsumoto Leiji was brought into the project and was tasked with reworking the series, both visually and as a narrative into something more universally appealing.
With his visual aesthetic and his pressing for the more ‘Oddessyian’ narrative we eventually arrived at when the series aired, many fans, Japanese and otherwise (at the time and even now) tend to look at Master Matsumoto as the ‘real’ creator of Yamato – a thing which needled Mr. Nishizaki to the end of his life and increasingly embittered the producer towards his more successful partner.
I will not dwell on the matter overlong. However, it is interesting to note that from 2002 (when a Tokyo court firmly established Nishizaki as the ‘creator’ of Space Battleship Yamato, as the result of earlier legal action over the failed series Yamato 2520) to the death of the series producer in 2010, we had a very strange affair – in which Nishizaki could use the name and the characters associated with the series, but Matsumoto held the rights to his manga and all visual rights.
Though a long time fan, and aware of these issues, I had no idea how deeply the acrimony ran – and runs to this day – till, when walking in Shinjuku last year with a friend I was accosted by an elderly gentleman in a rather combative fashion. Being a very dedicated fan of Master Matsumoto, though no foe of the late Mr. Nishizaki I was shocked to find a septuagenarian former animator physically grabbing me by my Maetel pin badge and, with tears in his eyes decrying the way in which Nishizaki had been sidelined by Master Matsumoto.
Still, even before the passing of Mr. Nishizaki it did appear that the wounds were beginning to heal, in that both camps agreed to work on the 2010 live action film which, though being hit and miss did put the idea of a renewal of the series back into the minds of the public.
Which is where Yamato 2199 steps into the breach.
Maintaining the imagery of the original, and as much of the older narrative as possible, this series – first screened in blocks at cinemas, and later broadcast as TV episodes – sought to bring the ‘God of Space Anime’ to a generation which had become used to a very different aesthetic, as well as appeal to older fans (like myself) who remember the original with so much love.
It was, as I said above, a risky move: to retread the first series, almost step for step.
Yet it paid off, and I adored the series (though not the later movie recaps).
So too did the Japanese public, and the foreign market along with it even at the high price for the home media versions (as English Subs were included).
Perhaps a little fan-servicey in places, and departing to some degree from the source, it still is seen as a sensitive remake of a beloved series by my peers here and made enough impact to result in the making of the follow up, Yamato 2202 and the release of my favorite ship from all the Yamato Arc (sorry, Yama-chan) – The UNCF Battleship Andromeda.
The Next Generation
This is the Movie FX version, as you can see. I’m a little wary of the quality of this, as I was a little crestfallen after I had finished the Bandai X-Wing which used similar tech for its lights and motor effects.
I note that, more and more, Bandai is getting to grips with the universal fit option, and though I cement all my parts, I sense this kit could firmly be press fitted without even a drop of glue.
At least the light/sound unit (not motors on this) is simple enough…
Having missed out on the diecast Andromeda a while back, I am especially pleased to get my hands on this kit and am looking forward to getting my teeth into it.
My only thought at the moment is if this will encourage Bandai to revisit their older 1/350 scale Yamato and update the light and sound in that beast of a kit, as I’d buy one like a shot.