SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO III: The Ground Shifts
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
SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO, Part 5: THE NEW VOYAGES Plural
SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO, Part 6: BE FOREVER YAMATO…and the Kitchen Sink.
As 1980 progressed, YAMATO’s star couldn’t have been flying higher. The summer promotional blitz for BE FOREVER had broken every record and the movie opened in August to huge acclaim. A tidal wave of merchandising was in flow, fan clubs were in full bloom, and the next YAMATO adventure was being readied for its October launch on TV.
The story for this new series had been initially proposed prior to the development of BE FOREVER YAMATO. Development documents from the post-NEW VOYAGE time-frame show the title “Yamato Part III,” and Nishizaki himself explained that his concept was for Yamato to launch on a mission to find a new home for the human race when it was discovered that Earth’s sun would explode in one year. Meanwhile, interstellar war was heating up between two rival space empires, the Galman and the Bolar—the worst possible time to be poking around in alien territory.
Leiji Matsumoto advocated instead that the new movie should have a tighter focus on the characters and such a large-scale scenario could be better served in an extended TV series. Nishizaki heartily agreed, and BE FOREVER YAMATO (as we know it) got underway.
Exact dates are elusive, but the lead time for series 3 would certainly have required that it go into development immediately after writers were freed up from their duties on BE FOREVER, which would have been February of 1980. The 52-episode story was epic in scope, enriched by many new characters, battle scenarios, and planetary adventures. Unfortunately for all concerned, an iceberg loomed invisibly in the path of the unsinkable ship. And its name was “other anime.”
The story of the Titanic is full of irony, and so is the story of YAMATO III. After its long, famous uphill slog, the first YAMATO TV series changed everything for the world of anime, elevating it out of a purely children’s medium into something teens and adults could enjoy. Tracking the growth of mature-audience anime from 1977 to 1980 tells the whole story with new and more sophisticated movies and TV shows growing exponentially. 1980 was the biggest year yet, and despite the smash success of BE FOREVER, YAMATO III wasn’t going to get a free ride. The TV networks were rapidly filling up, and competitors were waiting around every corner.
The series premiered on October 11, just two weeks after BE FOREVER finished its first theatrical run. By rights, the sheer momentum of this should have delivered record ratings…but it didn’t happen. High competition from rival networks was assumed to be the cause, along with the interesting notion that BE FOREVER raised expectations higher than TV could meet. Either way, the Yomiuri network gave it a month before deciding it was too risky to keep their full commitment and cut their order to 25 episodes.
This put a lot of story in jeopardy. The bulk of the character development was to occur in the latter half, along with a renewal of hostilities between Dessler and Yamato’s crew. Both Galman and Bolar forces were to become obstacles against finding a second Earth and the stakes would be raised enormously when the solar system itself came under attack.
The damage to the plot was just the beginning; Yoshinobu Nishizaki had to reform his entire company (almost certainly because of a seismic shift in financing), so the name Office Academy disappeared and was quickly replaced by West Cape Corporation. This occurred sometime in November, while BE FOREVER merchandising was still flowing hot and heavy. The trouble rippled outward to YAMATO III’s various licensors, who likewise had to scale back their own plans.
The writers went into emergency mode, cutting plots and reducing character development beginning in episode 9 and keeping what they could. The mid-point of the series was moved up and the entire second half was compressed into five episodes that left out most of the action. The finale was essentially told as planned, though the emotional punch was understandably compromised.
On the other hand, there were plenty of things that went right with YAMATO III. The new characters offered an interesting contrast with the older ones, the space war background was a unique encapsulation of the 1980s Cold War in SF terms, and the art direction represented a solid step forward. What’s more, composer Hiroshi Miyagawa wrote a lot of music, assuming it would have to fill out a year-long series. When it was cut back to half a year, it meant practically every episode would contain new music, which was always a feast for the ears. These and other factors outlived the transient nature of the TV ratings, and ultimately made YAMATO III an essential part of the quintessential SF anime.
Five years later after its Japanese debut, however, unfortunate compromises continued to dog the series when it was converted to the third STAR BLAZERS series. First and foremost, the original voice actors had all worked outside the auspice of a union, so their names had never been entered into an official roster and they couldn’t be relocated to reprise their roles. Westchester Films producer Claude Hill called in his friend, veteran actor Peter Hernandez, to supervise the entire transformative process and he did it to the best of his ability, gathering his longtime partners from the SPEED RACER days. Their experience enriched the project, particularly the new characters, but there was no getting around the fact that the unique voices of series 1 and 2 were no longer there.
There was also a technical cloud hanging over the production brought about by what might have been a critical oversight; the video picture was full of digital artifacts that are a byproduct of a low-resolution workprint. Under normal circumstances, the workprint image would have been replaced before going to broadcast, but this didn’t happen. Thus, the series became difficult to watch due to grainy, blurry, and often muddy video.
Things started to turn around when Voyager Entertainment asked me to supervise the process of converting STAR BLAZERS to DVD in 2000. By 2003, I’d learned enough about the process to figure out how to upgrade the video picture using alternate picture sources, and we were able to remaster the entire 25-episode series. And now, six years later, I’m about to embark on a remastering effort of another kind.
Many years ago, when I first learned about the extensive material that was lost from YAMATO III, I thought someone ought to investigate the unused material and revive it in some fashion. Maybe in comics form. Well, guess what? That someone turned out to be me. Time and circumstances have finally come together, and now I’m seizing the opportunity with both hands. It’s time at last for the Bolar Wars to continue. Starting October 1st, a brand new webcomic will make its debut: THE BOLAR WARS: EXTENDED!
You can read much more about this right now over at the official site, www.starblazers.com and find out practically everything else you ever wanted to know about STAR BLAZERS and SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO. Then head back here in about a month for the next installment in this whirlwind history.
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.
Next time: FINAL YAMATO–the Legacy Begins