Leiji Matsumoto's Dai Yamato Zero-GoWritten by Tim Eldred
"Dai" is the Japanese word for "Big." The kanji character looks something like a starfish.
You can see it at the head of the logo and over the Wave-Motion gun.
Unable to continue his ambitious plans for Great Yamato after a copyright shift in March 2002, Leiji Matsumoto got right to work on his next attempt to breathe life into Japan's most famous SF saga. Radically redesigning the ship (seemingly with parts from his other ships, most notably Captain Harlock's Arcadia), Matsumoto staffed it with a completely new crew starting with modified versions of his Great Yamato characters. Direct links to the original Space Battleship Yamato continuity were carefully laundered out with name and design changes.
Yamato as a name for a ship could not be copyrighted, as Matsumoto himself learned when he joined the staff of Space Battleship Yamato in 1974; coincidentally, he had bestowed the exact same name on a rocketship in his 1961 manga, Lightning Ozma. Now he could turn the same rule around to his own benefit.
So with a newly-tailored story (still set in the year 3199) and his partnership with Venture Soft still intact, he commenced work on Dai Yamato Zero-Go. What made this story different is that it didn't start out as a manga. It would go straight to animation...by way of your local pachinko parlor.
Dai Yamato's debut was in the form of a pachinko slot machine game released by the Sankyo Corporation in December 2002. Judging by the sheer amount of media attention and merchandising, the game was a major hit and started a campaign that stretched over the next three years. The anime arrived on home video in 2004, but was practically an afterthought amid the pachinko blitz. This put Dai Yamato on two separate tracks with very different outcomes.
In the meantime, a surprising amount of merchandising swept through Japan as Dai Yamato captured the eyeballs of pachinko players all over the country. Here is a record of the onslaught...
Dai Yamato Fever
Pachinko is Japan's national obsession, having come a long way over the centuries. Today's pachinko slot games (or 'Pachislo' in the local tongue) are now intensely noisy and complex multi-dimensional audio/visual experiences with arcane rules and labyrinthine storylines. If you could combine an anime program with pinball and a video arcade game, you'd be in the ballpark. And if there's any place noisier than the city of Tokyo, it's a pachislo parlor in the city of Tokyo.
'Fever' is a common modifier for a game title (not unlike the word 'Nation' or 'Trance' for a music album), and Dai Yamato Fever was the first major strike in a multi-year assault that would bring this new story to an eager public.
Developed by Sankyo to replace the relatively tame slot machine, it rolled into pachislo parlors in March 2003 with animation produced by Venture Soft to tell a story created by Leiji Matsumoto. The deeper you got into the gameplay, the more the story would unfold. The precise content and nature of that story would stay within the confines of the game for its first year.
High-profile pachislo games are usually accompanied by a media package. In this case, Dai Yamato Fever had a promotional pamphlet that came with a booklet, art cards, and game tips for the prospective player.
A set of cigarette lighters was also sold in addition to a home version for the PlayStation 2, released the same day the pachislo game premiered and inexplicably renamed Dai Yamato Fever 7. And this was only the beginning.
Dai Yamato Fever 2
Exactly a year after everyone caught Dai Yamato Fever, they could enjoy a relapse when Dai Yamato Fever 2 hit the pachislo parlors in March 2004. The faceplate and gameplay had been modified, new animation had been produced, and the voyage continued. Shown above right is a poster for the game.
Fever 2 had a mini-merchandising campaign of its own, which placed the main character (named Oki) on a variety of trinkets shown above. Japanese graphic designers are usually top notch, but the widespread use of a character in such a disapproving pose was ill-advised.
...or could it simply be that Oki just disapproves of smoking?
A CD soundtrack with a new version of the Yamato theme (above left) and guidebook (above right) was also released by Sankyo. As one might expect, a thriving pachislo industry leads to an equally thriving world of "how-to-play-it" books and videos (below).
Dai Yamato Evolution was a campaign that commenced a year later, in March 2005. Exactly what it entailed is somewhat of a mystery, but it was probably a third-generation pachislo game with new bells and whistles. So far its only visible evidence is this guidebook (above left) and jigsaw puzzle (above right). By this time, the Dai Yamato anime series was off and running...into problems of its own. So that's where we'll go next.
Dai Yamato Zero-Go: the Anime
Released in the spring and summer of 2004, the first three volumes each clocked in at about 45 minutes and finally achieved Leiji Matsumoto's heartfelt desire to bring Yamato back to animation. The story is described here, so instead of delving into it again, we can continue to investigate the phenomenon itself.
Between the release of Volumes 2 and 3 (which were only available on Region 2 DVDs from the Venture Soft website), the issue of Space Battleship Yamato copyright was finally settled in May 2004. Leiji Matsumoto was awarded visual rights, Yoshinobu Nishizaki was awarded rights to the original story, and Tohokushinsa Film Corp. maintained its position as the master rights holder of Yamato products (making them a de facto participant in any new project).
The good news for Matsumoto was that he could continue making Dai Yamato. The bad news was that despite the success of the games, the DVDs did not do well. Five were planned, but sales of the first three were disappointingly low and eventually forced Venture Soft into bankruptcy. Another company named Godship, Ltd. picked up where they left off, releasing a box set of all five volumes in 2007. This created a gap of three years after the release of volume 3; volumes 4 and 5 were never released individually.
The dual presence of pachislo games and anime DVDs created plenty of merchandising opportunities, which lead to a range of products that ran the gamut from clever to mystifying. If you liked Dai Yamato enough to adorn your body with it, you had some options. The first was a pendant featuring the Dai Yamato emblem (which looked suspiciously like a Great Yamato emblem) and a set of cloissone pins to commemorate Leiji Matsumoto's 50th year as a professional artist in 2004.
Paper modeling has been a pastime in Japan for many years, as evidenced by the earlier publication of Space Battleship Yamato papercraft books (among others) in previous years. Venture Soft published two Dai Yamato packs, one for the Space Zero fighter and another for the Zero-Go itself. The website daiyamato-zerogo.com was once the source for DVD orders, but is no longer active.
The disc shown above left is a genuine oddity, a lenticular image printed on what could either be a Frisbee or a hand-fan. And speaking of fans (how's that for a transition?), there were enough Dai Yamato fans to produce at least two doujinshi, as shown above right.
And whereas some fans publish their own comics, others are born to scratch-build models of whatever captures their favor. Shown above is a lavish attempt, created by heavily modifying a 1/500 Bandai model kit. Leiji Matsumoto essentially did the same thing, just not with plastic. See more photos here.
Here's a set of three postcards that wouldn't ordinarily be a point of interest except that the logo has changed to delete the name Yamato altogether. What this actually represents is still an unsolved mystery.
Among the tamer entries were a beach towel (above left) and matching Zippo lighter (above right) to set the towel ablaze if circumstances called for it. Incidentally, the kanji characters on the back of the lighter read "Yamato Car Inspection." And you can bet there's a story behind it...
It starts with a name: Yamato Shaken. The logo is seen in the ad at left, beneath the girl. "Shaken" isn't pronounced the English way, it's a pair of kanji characters pronounced Shah-ken and they translate to "Car Inspection." Yamato Shaken was a chain of auto maintenance shops run by a larger company called Car Conveni[ence] Club. ("Carcon" for short; their website is here.) A garage named Yamato and a multimedia project called Dai Yamato took one look at each other and knew it was much more than a hunch.
This may not be the only anime tie-in with an auto repair chain, but it certainly was the most productive. Starting in 2002, drivers in Japan could get their car fixed in Dai Yamato style and, while they were waiting, browse a lineup of exclusive Dai Yamato products to fill up the bag shown above. Here's a look at what this unique relationship produced...
As a customer driving in to Yamato Shaken, you'd look for the billboard image shown above and a big Dai Yamato display model, about a meter long, rotating on a pillar.
The main body of the model was injection-molded in a single large piece for durability, but a surprising amount of detail was added to the upper half; an unusual measure of attention given that it would be essentially hidden from street view. Also, based on these photos, there was some color variation from station to station.
Upon arrival, customers were greeted by technicians wearing these flashy "Pit Crew" coveralls. They didn't actually match what was seen in the anime, but they would have fit right in.
A set of cloths and towels was on offer inside, various shapes and colors to choose from...
A cigarette lighter was an easy thing to customize, so that was available too. And then there was the toy airplane.
Of course. An airplane. Specifically, a diecast B-767 Skymark decorated with a Dai Yamato website banner. Because, well, it made sense to someone. The Yamato Shaken tie-in campaign ended prior to 2005 when the chain was rebranded as "Car Conveni Club."
Dai Yamato enjoyed a longer and more colorful life than Great Yamato, but it came to almost the same unhappy ending. As reported here, the pesky copyright issues came to a head again in December 2008 and were settled in favor of Tohokushinsha Film Corp. with Dai Yamato on the losing side. The games were already long-gone from pachinko parlors by that time, and the DVD series was still struggling with tepid sales. Even if no further issues had come up, it was likely that Dai Yamato's fate had already been sealed.
But as this track record plainly demonstrates, the energy surrounding a new take on the old classic is still a force to be reckoned with.
Dai Yamato on the Web: