Space Battleship Yamato, Part 5: The New Voyages (Plural)
SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO, Part 1: The Anime Classic That Nearly Wasn’t
SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO, Part 2: From Valley to Peak
SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO, Part 3: ARRIVEDERCI YAMATO Goodbye Dark Ages, Hello Global Village
SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO, Part 4: We’re Off to Outer Space
How do you top yourself after you’ve made two tremendously popular YAMATO stories for both TV and the cinema, changed the entire world of anime, and taken command of the status quo? If your name is Yoshinobu Nishizaki, you multiply your output by a factor of four.
No joke, this is what made him the hardest working man in anime in the year 1979. Academy Studio, the nerve center of SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO, benefited more than anyone from the anime explosion after the YAMATO booms of ’77 and ’78. It would have been easy to rest on their laurels, but instead Nishizaki lead his rock-solid creative staff on four nearly-simultaneous voyages.
One of these we’ve already investigated: the transformation of the first two YAMATO TV series into the English-language STAR BLAZERS. To this day, it is unclear how deeply Nishizaki delved into this project, but at the very least, it is known that he made a pointed effort to impress upon the American production staff how important YAMATO was to the Japanese fans, and that he wished for it to receive the same respect on the other side of the globe. Evidence of more direct involvement is yet to be uncovered.
The other three voyages happened in Japan. After the YAMATO 2 TV series concluded (with very strong ratings) in April of ’79, Two new productions took its place in quick succession: BLUE NOAH and Maeterlinck’s BLUE BIRD. Despite the word ‘Blue’ and the fact that they both ran for 26 episodes, they had nothing in common. BLUE NOAH was a shonen SF action series about a super-submarine fighting off an alien invasion; it followed the YAMATO formula to a fault and was known in later years by the name THUNDER SUB. (You can read a more detailed review of the series at starblazers.com).
THE BLUE BIRD was a different animal altogether, a philosophical fairy tale for children written by Belgian poet Maurice Maeterlinck in 1909. In the story, two children pursue the blue bird of happiness through a fantasy land that provides a metaphorical view of their everyday world. Nishizaki produced both programs, and they made their television debuts in October 1979 and January 1980 respectively.
All this is presented in order to make the real subject of this article that much more impressive: a made-for-TV movie called SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO: THE NEW VOYAGE, which aired on July 31, 1979.
Three TV series and one international production inside of a single year would have been more than enough for any normal human to wrangle. Add to that the next installment of the YAMATO saga, a 90-minute adventure that would have to live up to its predecessors AND pull in big TV ratings, and you understand that Nishizaki was anything but a normal human. Now that this is out of the way, we can take a look at the film itself.
(Spoiler warning: all major plot points are revealed here. If you want to see the movie first, the online store at starblazers.com is ready to serve you).
Finding the story was a process that began in January, while YAMATO 2 was still in production, but from the beginning of Hideaki Yamamoto’s first draft, all the major characters are alive and well. The memorial service at Hero’s Hill is coupled with the long-awaited wedding of Kodai and Yuki (Wildstar and Nova). Out in space, Dessler returns to Planet Gamilas just in time to watch it attacked and destroyed by an alien enemy, which then flies off in pursuit of Planet Iscandar. Yamato launches to join the fight, and a three-way battle is waged with Queen Starsha making the decisive move.
This basic plot remained intact all the way through development. It was constructed with two audiences in mind, as Nishizaki explained after the fact:
“The direct motivation [for the film] was the change of generation among our fans,” he wrote. “A 12-year old fan in 1974 is now 18, and would look back at the first TV series as a classic. So why not create a new, more modern YAMATO story for those who were 8 or 9 years old when the original program ignited the YAMATO boom? In fact, with the broadcast of YAMATO 2 as a turning point, a strong request emerged from the so-called second generation of YAMATO fans for us to create a third story.”
The task was to please both the veteran fans who wanted to see favorite characters again, and new fans who hadn’t yet tuned into the Yamato groove (several new crewmembers were created to give them someone to identify with). Nevertheless, a lot of details came and went over subsequent story drafts.
Writer Aritsune Toyota took his turn at the story a month later, naming the new enemy the Galactic Crime League. Its leader, Youichi Maki, was once a bitter rival of Kodai in the academy. In Toyota’s draft, Maki is the one to destroy Gamilas in an attempt to frame Kodai for the act. This is sorted out during the subsequent pursuit of Iscandar, which disintegrates by the end of the story.
Toyota wrote another draft that same month, abandoning the new character and establishing the enemy as the Dark Nebula Empire, who attempt to strip-mine Gamilas for raw resources. When this operation goes out of control, they turn to Iscandar and bury a drill missile in the planet. Desslok’s SOS interrupts Kodai and Yuki’s wedding, and Yamato launches into the fray. This time an enemy defector turns himself over to Yamato and reveals the bigger picture about the Dark Nebulans plotting for galactic conquest, but their plans are defeated when Starsha destroys Iscandar.
Writer/director Toshio Masuda wrote the next draft, which gives Dessler a chance to make peace with Starsha before the enemy engagement begins. The enemy is still called the Dark Nebula Empire, but now we learn that they need the raw materials from Gamilas and Iscandar to use in their eternal war with the White Nebula Shalbart, and they intend to tow Gamilas all the way to their homeworld. Starsha is the one to alert Earth to this danger, and Kodai promises Yuki that they will be married after this new mission is over. The three-way battle carries everyone into the Sargasso Sea of space where a gigantic living asteroid called Spideria waits to ensnare all comers. Once again, Starsha finds the ultimate solution.
Hideaki Yamamoto completed a fifth draft of the story at the end of February, 1979. It combined the core of his first draft with the strongest concepts of others. Youichi Maki, the Dark Nebulan defector, and Spideria were dropped along with any reference to a White Nebula. The cry for help still interrupts wedding plans, and Iscandar is still hit by a giant drill missile which causes an out-gassing of tachyon particles that propel the planet out of its orbit. The three-way battle ends the same way, with Starsha destroying Iscandar.
That was apparently the favored plot point at all stages of development, and it remained completely intact in the finished film. Every draft also had Starsha send away Mamoru (Alex Wildstar) with the infant Sasha, both of whom return to Earth with Yamato. Once it was agreed that was the emotional core of the story, the rest of the plot was pared down to support it. In the end, not even the wedding survived, relegated to little more than a passing thought in the finished screenplay.
With the story in place, production got underway in the spring of 1979 as the YAMATO 2 TV series was winding down. Because animation director Noboru Ishiguro was still hip-deep in work, staff veteran Takeshi Shirato was appointed to helm THE NEW VOYAGE. Ishiguro would be involved, lending his expertise as his schedule allowed, but his talents were in high demand elsewhere, and this would prove to be his final year on the YAMATO saga.
The film would also explore a new format called the Tele-feature; basically a made-for-TV-movie. Other productions had already been broadcast this way, but Shirato commented at the time that, “I have seen many [tele-features], and I think that though the first half of the story is usually high-spirited, the second half loses energy. Maybe the creators are too accustomed to making 30-minute episodes. Of course, we are trying to avoid this.”
The story structure was already fortified against that problem with its heavy action content, just one of many creative decisions that helped the movie stand out from its competition. Other such decisions happened on the music side; the score for the film cast a wide net with both a classic Enka (folk ballad) song for its end title and a cutting-edge synthesizer tune for the enemy theme. Yoshinobu Nishizaki had been a music producer long before he ever got into animation, and it was definitely his golden touch at work. He also had very specific ideas about the overall theme:
“Because of my previous works, I have been regarded as a producer who creates love stories,” he said. “Personally, I don’t say the word “love” very often, but I cannot avoid this theme in YAMATO. There are many scales of love, and we can also say that love is a dedication to people. But there’s more to it than that. There is also the love between a husband and a wife, parents and children, and brothers. Also, there is a man who loves only one woman throughout his life. Since THE NEW VOYAGE was meant to build a bridge to the next movie, the love theme would have to be part of it.”
As usual, the high quality-control inherent in YAMATO production pushed the deadlines right to the limit, with the last reel of the movie being completed as the first was already on the air, July 31st on Japan’s Fuji Television Network. The fans, who had eagerly followed production reports for months, were riveted. It was widely known that The New Voyage was to be the stepping stone to a new story referred to at the time as YAMATO PART 3. This knowledge stoked the flame even higher and resulted in a TV rating of over 25%, meaning that at least a quarter of the TV sets measured were tuned in.
In the wake of this, Nishizaki made an announcement that was akin to a declaration of war in the anime community. His saga was now the leader of the pack, and he knew full well that he was setting standards for others to follow: “I will make the next YAMTO not because I want to create something, but because I personally want to watch it.”
In a phenomenon that perfectly followed Nishizaki’s intention to unify old and new, divisions disappeared between the fans. Instead of bickering about whether FAREWELL was superior to YAMATO 2, or which character was the most popular, now they were all simply counting the minutes to the next launch in the summer of 1980. And what a summer it would be.
Next time: The marketing campaign that would BE FOREVER!
Keep watching SciFi Japan for more installments of Tim Eldred’s look back at the classic SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO!
Read much more about Yamato and find STAR BLAZERS DVDs at www.starblazers.com
STAR BLAZERS is ©Voyager Entertainment, Inc.