STAR BLAZERS was a 52-episode animated series that began airing in the United States in syndication in September of 1979. Created in response to the great hunger for more science fiction programming in the wake of the massive success of STAR WARS, STAR BLAZERS was freely adapted from the Japanese television program SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO and its sequel series, SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO 2. It was and remains a huge influence on me, and was unlike anything that was being broadcast at that point.
With four decades of hindsight, that original series comes away seeming a bit crude (in particular the first 26 episodes, which were made much earlier and under a much reduces budget.) Yet, this strange cartoon about a resurrected World War II battleship reborn to save the Earth from extinction served as the gateway drug into anime for an entire generation of fans. Before Robotech, and long after Astro Boy, Gigantor and Speed Racer, there was Star Blazers.
STAR BLAZERS was unique in that it told a serialized story over its entire series, a story much darker and more realistic than anything else on the air at that time (and yes, despite the fact that the conceit of the premise is fundamentally ridiculous.) It also had, bar none, the finest soundtrack in animation, background music performed by a full orchestra with such power that the music itself became a feature of the program. Most other Japanese cartoon imports wiped the original music tracks, substituting more basic home-grown melodies (as was the case with Robotech, a crime as the MACROSS music was quite good and a key component in the storyline.) STAR BLAZERS maintained the original YAMATO score, to its great advantage.
I became a huge STAR BLAZERS fan, but not right away. In the year before it aired, I had become very much enamored with BATTLE OF THE PLANETS, a similar import from Japan that took episodes of SCIENCE NINJA TEAM GATCHAMAN, edited the hell out of them, and pretended that much of the action was happening on alien planets–again, to try to cash in on the success of STAR WARS. Even as chopped up and remixes as it was, BATTLE OF THE PLANETS was the best cartoon on the air at that point, and undeniably a super hero show at that, so I was a total convert.
In the New York area, STAR BLAZERS aired at 6:30 in the morning, which made it almost impossible to watch in an era before VCRs and DVRs were standard equipment in most households. And to be honest, I didn’t really seek it out. My younger brother Ken would sometimes watch it in the mornings, and I would catch little bits of it. But it didn’t’ appeal to me. I could tell it was fruit of the same tree as BATTLE OF THE PLANETS, but the art style seemed much cruder, much less Americanized, much less super hero-oriented. it was weird, and I didn’t like it. So I didn’t give it a lot of thought.
It wasn’t until the latter months of 1981, when my family relocated to Delaware, that I encountered STAR BLAZERS again. There, it aired at 3:30 in the afternoon on a Philadelphia station. but again, I didn’t watch it, not at first. I would catch moments of it–I can clearly recall seeing a few bits of the very final episode, an exchange between Wildstar and Doctor Sane, that put me off based on the strange cartooning of Sane’s physiognomy. A later scene with the ethereal Trelaina similarly put me off. I didn’t have enough context for what the sow was about, but none of these momentary glimpses hooked me. I couldn’t even have told you at this point that the series was about a particular spaceship.
It wasn’t until weeks later, when the series had once more virtually rotated its way back through its 52 episodes, that I finally caught the bug. For whatever reason, I ended up catching a big chunk of the 18th episode of the show’s second season. (Episode 44 in STAR BLAZERS terms.) Almost the entirety of the episode was about characterization as well as block-and-tackle, as Earth flagship Captain Gideon disregards instructions and pulls together Earth’s massive space fleets in order to prepare for an assault from the approaching Comet Empire. In particular, the final sequence of the episode, in which the imprisoned Desslok of Gamilon makes a daring escape from a Comet Empire prison, got my attention. And the episode was continued the following day.
That next episode concerned the Star Force’s attempts to get back to Earth space in time to join the rest of the fleet in the defense of their home system, but the aggressive Space Marine Sgt. Knox demands that the Argo first stop off at Planet Brumis so that he can pay his respects to his fallen comrades before going into battle. The sequences of him pouring a toast to his dead fellow soldiers on the devastated battlefield is pretty powerful stuff for a kid’s show in 1979 (or 1982, when I would have seen it.) The episode also made it clear to me, finally, that the focus of the series was on the Star Force, the elite Earth unit stationed aboard the mighty battleship Argo, whose Wave-Motion Engine allowed it to travel faster than the speed of light, and whose bow-mounted Wave-Motion Gun was powerful enough to annihilate any enemy force.
So many years later, I can still recite much of the dialogue from these 52 episodes from memory, and seeking out additional background information on the origins of the series placed me into contact with a diverse group of people from all over the globe who became among my closest friends. So what was it about these crude, ridiculous episodes that made such an impact on me and others like me? I’m going to try to drill down on it all and find out, by systemically working my way through those original 52 episodes one by one and reviewing them, giving my thoughts and reactions to them. Hopefully, I won’t run out of worthwhile observations by episode 4. But especially now that the modern remake is streaming online from Funimation–a remake that i think is technically superior to the original but which somehow lacks just a little bit of its heart and spirit–and so a whole new generation is coming to the program, it seems an advantageous moment to revisit these old episodes. Especially since they’re not easily available either online or on DVD in anything other than iffy-quality bastardized editions.
All right. Here we go. THERE ARE NOW ONLY 52 EPISODES LEFT!