Yamato and the Leijiverse
Back when I wrote a post on Cycles in the Leijiverse (Maetel Cycle, Harlock Cycle etc), I decided to exclude the Yamato franchise. I didn’t give a reason why, and no one challenged me, but now I’m sure that decision was utterly wrong.
If I remember correctly, the main reason for me was that no characters in the Yamato “world” (as far as I knew, and know) carried over into the other Leijiverse works. Besides, the fact (which of course is intimately related to the main reason) that the work was originally conceived by someone other than L. Matsumoto seemed to work in favor of exclusion. But recently I’ve read a lot of Leiji’s sci fi comics, and I’ve realized that you don’t need Harlock or Maetel to show up in order to be able to see how practically every work he’s been involved with since the late 1960s has the same flavor, the same issues, in short, that every work is set in the same universe, which is precisely what we call the Leijiverse.
There is a deeper, psychological reason why I wanted to exclude Yamato: the complexity and size of the franchise. For a Leiji fan who hadn’t even finished watching the Space Pirate Captain Harlock and Galaxy Express 999 TV shows [I still haven’t!], to accept the Yamato juggernaut as part of the Leijiverse would have meant throwing up my hands in despair and saying: “Enough, I will never grasp it all!!” Excluding Yamato was a way for me to feel I could become an expert in the Leijiverse quicker and with less trouble…
So then why did I start watching the original season of Space Battleship Yamato? Well, three things happened simultaneously, as if the ship were knocking at my door:
1) Harlock Saga
Recently I read Leiji’s manga series Harlock Saga.
There is a scene in which Harlock’s father Great Harlock docks his ship the Deathshadow at the planet Heavy Melder. Now, Heavy Melder is interesting because it is a crossroads, a grand junction, not only spatially but also temporally! As proof, the Deathshadow’s crew gets to see mighty Space Battleship Yamato docking, even though it is a ship in the past. Later on there the mysterious lady Miime reveals the Big Four greatest ships in the universe of all time:
b) Time Sweeper Mahoroba
c) Queen Emeraldas
d) Space Battleship Yamato
So here is Leiji, 25 years after the debut of Space Battleship Yamato on TV, putting the warship firmly within the superstars of the Leijiverse. After finishing Saga, I quickly read the Mahoroba and Emeraldas series…and already Yamato beckoned.
2) Live-action Space Battleship Yamato
Something else that happened was that I got word of the live-action Space Battleship Yamato movie coming out in December. The actual ship looks very impressive, as you can see below.
Takuya Kimura, cast in the lead role of Susumu Kodai, is perhaps not the greatest actor in the world, but he’s so beloved in Japan that, well…for someone like me who’s lived in that country the fact that they’ve got Kimura for this role is good evidence that they’re serious about making this project work. I mean, the man is an institution…besides, Susumu Kodai ain’t Hamlet. I don’t reckon he’ll be that challenging a character to play.
I’d never heard of Meisa Kuroki (who will play Yuki Mori) before, and having listened to a bit of her music I do agree with one assessment I’ve seen that she’s basically Amuro-lite [and since Amuro is still pumping out albums, then what’s the point of listening to Meisa?? though in her defense I must say that IMHO there are many, many worse things you could be called in the world of J-pop than “Amuro-lite”]. Anyway, she’s unbearably smexy and thus eminently suited to play Yuki, who from what I have seen of the original show is a classic sex object.
Oh…and the guy playing Captain Okita looks too cool!
True, Matsumoto wasn’t involved in the making of the film [due to the huge legal struggles that have plagued the franchise, but let’s not get into that] but it’s supposed to be based on the original series of which Matsumoto was such a crucial part of, so…
3) The real Yamato
Finally, I just started reading a book on the action at Leyte Gulf, in the Pacific Theater of World War Two. The original Battleship Yamato was involved in that conflict, and although the book I’m reading focuses on the role of two other battleships (Yamashiro, Fuso) it still mentions Yamato enough times for me to have thought: enough, I’ve gotta go watch Space Battleship Yamato!
BTW, fans of Space Battleship Yamato may remember that when the ship reaches Titan Susumu Kodai finds the wreckage of his older brother’s ship. That ship is named Yukikaze, the original of which (a destroyer) participated in the Battle of Leyte Gulf along with the Yamato.
And so once I started to watched it, I immediately realized just how Leijiversal the 1974 TV series really was.
Looking at the cast of characters, for example, you find Daisuke Shima and Yuki Mori. Leiji’s late Sixties manga Sexaroid (1968) starred Shima and Yuki. [There’s another connection with Sexaroid: on its way out of the Solar System, the Yamato has to stop in Titan to mine the key substance “cosmonite”. Cosmonite figures prominently in Sexaroid]. Dr. Sado reminds me of the man of the same name a jaded Harlock bequeaths his Deathshadow to in Great Pirate Harlock (1972).
In episode three we learn of several Earth places in trouble: New York, Moscow, Kenya. Mention of this last one immediately brought me back to Leiji’s Millennial Queen manga (early 1980s), where there is a massive evacuation from around 12 major cities, the only African one mentioned being Nairobi! [not only that, but LaMetal’s queen has in her palace several rooms in traditional Earth styles, one of the rooms being Kenyan]. Clearly, Matsumoto thinks of Kenya when he thinks of Africa, though that’s a common enough association.
My point is that a Leiji fan will feel right at home in the Yamato franchise because it is home…If there’s something odd about it for the Leiji fan is its huge presence on the Net. Likely because of its adaptation into English as Star Blazers, there are several extremely detailed, well researched and fancy looking English-language websites on the series [e.g. here and here]. I just wish there were more sites like that for Harlock and Maetel.
But I’m not complaining…this wealth of information is a wonderful thing…I don’t feel as compelled to write down my thoughts on each episode (knowing there’s so much good analysis out there already) but I do promise at the very least to write my impressions of the whole show once I’ve finished it. So far I’m 9 episodes in and enjoying it immensely…
NEXT DAY UPDATE: Two things: 1) Episode 10 is awesome. 2) the latest Matsumoto manga Out of Galaxy Koshika (2009) features as one if its characters a lad called Juzo Kodai. The two most important men aboard the Space Battleship Yamato are Capt. Juzo Okita and Susumu Kodai. And yes, the characters for these names are the same! Oh, and another character in Kosika is named Miyuki Moriki. Sound like someone else on the Yamato?