DESSLER’S WAR and More: SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO in the 80s
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.
SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO, Part 7: SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO III: The Ground Shifts
SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO, Part 8: FINAL YAMATO: The Legacy Begins
What do you do if you’ve just laid your greatest creation to rest and still have decades of your life ahead of you? Easy: you start making another one.
That’s what Producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki did almost immediately after putting the finishing touches on FINAL YAMATO in 1983. His beloved ship was no more and his characters had presumably moved on with their lives, but plenty more could still be done with YAMATO as a “legacy” property. Home video was now in full bloom, so the entire YAMATO catalogue could be exploited on VHS, Betamax and Laserdisc. Time was spent creating new content as well; five unique YAMATO MVs (Music Videos) that combined footage with soundtrack music in new and artful ways, giving viewers a slightly more abstract view of the saga.
The official YAMATO fan club was still going full speed ahead, and twice-yearly meetings became a touchstone for the fans. These were single-day YAMATO mini-cons that included screenings, karaoke, cosplay, games, and a lecture/Q&A with Nishizaki. Around this same time, a separate group of fans got their own mini-con off the ground, an annual event called “Yamato Party” that continues to this day.
But this wasn’t enough to satisfy Nishizaki, who now had a head full of hard-won knowledge about cutting-edge anime production and was itching to do more with it. So almost as soon as he laid FINAL YAMATO to rest, he announced a slate of future projects in the pages of the fan club magazine. One would be a sequel titled DESSLER’S WAR. Another was simply called NEW YAMATO and a third had the working title of STARSHIP.
Despite Nishizaki’s determination and bombast, each of these three projects was destined for a very different fate. For starters, the only one that actually made it across the finish line during the 80s was STARSHIP, though it changed substantially between concept and completion. Tapping back into the space opera trope that made YAMATO such a hit, he envisioned another vessel taking to the stars. This time it looked more like a clipper ship whose sails were driven by powerful lasers. The crew was to be a mixture of hotshot rookies and grizzled veterans who would travel the length of the galaxy in pursuit of ancient alien secrets. Over time, the title was changed to ODIN: PHOTON SPACE SAILOR STARLIGHT.
It would be an enormous story told in 12 hour-long installments, broadcast once a month on Japan’s NHK network. Everything seemed to be going as planned until the plug was pulled (for reasons still not publicized) somewhere during the production of episode 3. Left with about 2.5 hours of footage, Nishizaki turned it into a feature film and prepped it for an August 1985 release. The film’s staff consisted almost entirely of YAMATO veterans, including the composers. (Not to mention a Japanese heavy metal group named Loudness.)
ODIN had everything that a YAMATO fan could want…except a complete story. There was no getting around it, and in the end it was the fatal flaw. ODIN as a film owed too much to its predecessor and was irrevocably hobbled by being, at best, the introduction to an epic that would never be told.
So much for STARSHIP.
NEW YAMATO evolved through various stages in the club magazine’s updates. At one point it was to be a sequel, then it was described as a remake, then a live-action project, and then it turned into something else entirely. But that’s another story that will be told in our next installment.
Of these three projects, the one that most strongly captured the imagination of the fans was DESSLER’S WAR. The reason was simple: it would be an entire film featuring everyone’s favorite anti-hero (known to STAR BLAZERS fans as Leader Desslok). More accurately, it was meant to be a series of six hour-long OAVs beginning with DESSLER’S WAR 1: BATTLESHIP STARSHA.
The first announcement was made in the October ’83 issue of the club magazine. The story would pick up sometime after FINAL YAMATO. Kodai and Yuki would be married and have a child by then and Kodai’s continued relationship with his former arch enemy would figure strongly in the next major event.
The December ’83 issue expanded on this by explaining that Dessler would lead his people back to the Large Magellanic Cloud to discover that a fearsome new enemy had conquered it in his absence. His response would be to build the powerful new Battleship Starsha to fight them. Leiji Matsumoto was said to be working on the ship design, but it was never revealed. A new Yamato (built by Americans) would join the fight, and we would also meet the son of General Dommel [Lysis].
That’s where things stood until the following August, when the next update changed things a bit. Seeing Dessler’s friendship with Kodai as a weakness, this new enemy would strike at Earth and Dessler would have to come to the rescue.
Another year passed and the project was scaled back from six episodes to four. Now an elaborate backstory was being developed about the origins of Gamilon and Iscandar. They were originally a single planet called Gaia, which was attacked by radioactive beings called Disruptors. The people of Gaia send out a distress call which Dessler receives in the future. He time-warps back to this ancient past and fulfills the legend of a hero who will appear in a time of great crisis.
And then another year passed, bringing us to August 1986. Nishizaki was still intent on making both NEW YAMATO and DESSLER’S WAR, but neither stream of development had generated a script that he liked. This was still the case in December 1987, when he admitted that no matter how many meetings were held, the stories simply weren’t coming together. Every idea that was proposed seemed hopelessly mired in the past. Rather than continue to wrestle with them, he decided to make a clean break.
A writer named Souji Yoshikawa had delivered a new idea that went off in a radically different direction. Nishizaki liked it enough to move it to the front burner, setting a whole new chain of events into motion. They would lead to an actual project that turned out to be more than he or anyone else had bargained for.
Read more about DESSLER’S WAR at starblazers.com
Read much more about Yamato and find STAR BLAZERS DVDs at www.starblazers.com
STAR BLAZERS is ©Voyager Entertainment, Inc.
Next time: The Rollercoaster Ride—SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO in the 90s!