One of the most compelling discoveries for me when I first became a fan of STAR BLAZERS and began to plug into the loose network of fandom that existed at that time was that there had been additional YAMATO stories produced after the two series that had made up STAR BLAZERS. Finding a way to experience those stories was a huge driving part of what STAR BLAZERS fandom was all about in those days. This led to the purchase of my first video recorder–a massive Betamax machine that ran for twenty years–and exposure to not only the rest of the YAMATO canon, but also the other shows that were being created in the wake of the animation boom that YAMATO had set off in Japan.
Unfortunately, right at the point when I was getting into the show, that cycle ended with the final YAMATO release in Japan for decades. And looking over the stories that were told post-STAR BLAZERS, it’s not too difficult to work out why. While the production team saw the value (and the potential profit) in keeping the ship and the crew alive after the extraordinary success of SARABA YAMATO, they ultimately never quite worked out what to do with it all now that it was still around. They would simultaneously attempt to half-heartedly push the franchise forward on one hand while simultaneously attempting to re-create its most classic moments on the other. Some good moments and sequences resulted, and some beautiful animation–but ultimately, I feel as though YAMATO 2/SARABA YAMATO really was about the pinnacle of the series.
The very first post-STAR BLAZERS production was a 90-minute television movie called YAMATO: THE NEW VOYAGE. It encapsulates this dichotomy perfectly. Taking place a month after the climax of YAMATO 2, the film reunites the few surviving Star Force members aboard the repaired Yamato and fills out their ranks with a number of newcomers: Orion’s subordinate Yamazaki takes over the engine room, assisted by Orion’s young foul-up son; a new pilot, Kitano, is posted to the bridge, where he’s tentative and hesitant; and a new fighter pilot, Sakamoto, who is brash and a bit of an asshole, leads the Black Tigers. (Half of these characters will never appear again–it was difficult, apparently, to get Japanese audiences to invest in newcomers to the series.) But the film’s main story is really about Desslok, who returns to Gamilon with his fleet only to find it being stripped of its resources by a new enemy: the Dark Nebula Empire.
Desslok, of course, makes a fight of it, and in the course of things, the Dark Nebulans’ geothermal taps are damaged, causing the detonation and destruction of the whole planet. This has the added effect of causing Iscandar to hurtle out of its orbit. Starsha calls the Earth for help. Astonishingly, the Yamato is able to make it there in a single warp, which does a bit of a disservice to the journey of the first series, but hey, they only had 90 minutes to work with. The Star Force and Desslok join forces against the Dark Nebula Empire, but ultimately it’s Starsha who ends the conflict when she self-detonates Iscandar itself. The only survivors are Wildstar’s brother Alex and his daughter with Starsha, Sasha. Desslok leaves with the remainder of his forces to search for a new homeland, but he’s now an ally of the Star Force–and the Yamato returns home, aware that there is a Dark Nebula Empire out there that is up to no good.
This was followed up in 1980 with the feature film BE FOREVER YAMATO, which is certainly the best of the post-YAMATO 2 entries. The year is 2202, and Earth is invaded by the Dark Nebula Empire in full force. The Dark Nebbies place a colossal neutron bomb on the Earth capable of destroying the minds of all humanity. The Star Force makes their way to the Yamato, which is concealed in the asteroid belt–but Nova is left behind, where she becomes the captive of the Dark Nebula intelligence officer Alphon. We get a few new crew-members here as well, including a new Captain, Yamanami (who naturally doesn’t make it out of the film alive). Conroy’s younger brother who is so much like him that they just use the same design sheet for him, and Sandor’s niece Mio, who has a secret–she’s really Sasha. Apparently, Iscandarians grow to full maturity in just a year, who knew?
Anyway, the animation in this feature is top-notch as the Yamato needs to voyage to the Dark Nebula Empire itself in order to neutralize the trigger for the bomb on Earth. There are a series of spectacular action sequences–and all the while, the separated Wildstar and Nova are tempted romantically by Sasha and Alphon respectively. (On Iscandar, it’s also apparently okay to get involved with your Uncle–again, who knew?) In the end, Yamanami dies, Sasha dies, the Dark Nebula Empire is so destroyed that even the Dark Nebula itself is no more, and Wildstar and Nova’s love has been reaffirmed as she waits for him at Captain Avatar’s statue to return to her on Earth.
This was followed up in 1981 by SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO 3, the third television series, and the most ambitious storyline the production team had attempted up until this time. Unfortunately, a lack of both time and money would result in some crummy-looking episodes and sour ratings–the proposed 52-episode storyline was truncated down to a mere 25 episodes. This series attempted to move things ahead as well, promoting Wildstar to full Captain of the Yamato and bringing in a bevy of new young characters–notably Domon/Jason Jetter and Ageha/Flash Contrail as a variant on Wildstar and Venture. As in the past, the new characters failed to connect with the audience, and both Domon and Ageha were killed off by the end of the series.
The story, for a change, was less Earth-centric: out in space, a great war is being waged between the Galman Empire and the Bolar Federation. During one such battle, a planet-destroyer Proton Missile goes awry, ultimately detonating within Earth’s sun. This sets off a chain reaction that will cause the Sun to go super-nova. The Yamato is dispatched on the vital mission of locating a new habitable planet that the population of the Earth can migrate to before time runs out. This show employed the episode-ending countdown of the first series in this regard. There was a lot more going on here as well–ultimately, Desslok is at the head of the Galman Empire, and there’s a religious conflict surrounding Mother Shalbart, a mystic figure. In the end, the Star Force is able to locate a device that can stabilize the out-of-control sun, and so the Earth is saved.
Eventually, this series was dubbed as STAR BLAZERS as well, but this was done several years after the original two series had been completed, and by an entirely different translation and dubbing team. What this meant was that the result had a very different flavor to it–the original STAR BLAZERS took liberties with the source material to make it more about the characters than the ship. STAR BLAZERS 3 largely didn’t bother with this. In addition, the voice cast lacked the wild conviction of the original actors, with the result that the new dub was both a bit kiddier and a bit lifeless. So many years after the face, the whole series has been lumped together in the minds of views of today, but to the fans of the era, STAR BLAZERS 3 was very much an afterthought, and a good example of “be careful what you wish for.” Both at home and abroad, YAMATO 3 was a failure.
1983 brought the last installment in the original Yamato cycle, the feature film FINAL YAMATO. After the failure of YAMATO 3, the decision was made to retire the franchise, which necessitated an ending the equal to SARABA. Unfortunately, this wasn’t it. It’s a very pretty film, but the story logic is a mess. Its biggest sin is in resurrecting Captain Avatar through pretty much bullshit means, so that he can go down with the ship at the end of the film, allowing Wildstar and Nova to begin a new life on Earth. FINAL spends its first act undoing much of the development of YAMATO 3, busting Wildstar back down to regular crewman, decimating the Galman Empire, and so forth. Even the date is rolled back–YAMATO 3 was set in 2005, but FINAL, though clearly happening after that television series, is set in 2003, to make the characters younger.
The story centers around the roaming water planet Aquarius, which follows an enormous orbit throughout the cosmos and is responsible for the creation of life on innumerable worlds. But a dimensional dislocation causes disaster throughout the galaxy, including the destruction of the planet Deingil. The remaining Deingilians decide that they need to emigrate to Earth, and so they begin to warp Aquarius to wards the planet–the idea being that Aquarius will wash away human civilization and then Deingil can set up shop. In the end, in order to divert Aquarius, the Yamato needs to be detonated at a certain point in space, requiring the sacrifice of Captain Avatar again. In-between, there are the usual battle set pieces, some nice music, a perfunctory and pretty stupid death for Mark Venture–and, oh yes, in the original cut of the film, a sex scene at the end where Wildstar and Nova consummate their relationship. Well, it’s a happy ending to some. But for years, while there were rumors of additional new Yamato projects on the horizon, or spin-off projects featuring Desslok, nothing ever materialized. Not until about ten years ago–but that’s what our next installment will be all about.