In Our Next STAR BLAZERS Adventure

After FINAL YAMATO was released in 1983, it would be more than 25 years before we’d get another YAMATO/STAR BLAZERS project, though there were always rumors about new things in the pipeline, rumors that would never quite be borne out. It’s taken a very long time, but the last decade has been very encouraging for YAMATO fans, with a bevy of films and series released. But to get there, we had to endure this drought, and wrestle with the notion that we might never see another YAMATO production again. So here, we’re going to take a quick look at all of the new wave of YAMATO stories–starting with one of the most frustrating.

This was YAMATO 2520, intended to be a 7-part home video release. Only three chapters would ever be released. Its most notable quality is that Syd Mead did the designwork for the new Yamato of the future as well as most of the other technology. But this was Yamato in name only, a lifeless story about refugee children who wind up constructing the 18th ship to carry the name Yamato and becoming embroiled in a war between the Earth Federation and the Seilen Federation. If this show had been released without the Yamato name on it, you’d be hard-pressed to draw a connection, sadly. Perhaps the most egregious failing is the fact that the new 18th Yamato is a monstrosity–it’s a design that no kid sitting in a lunchroom was every going to be able to draw properly. But this was as good as it got for YAMATO fans in the 90s, and as hungry as we were, we salivated for it, even while knowing it wasn’t any good at all.

It would take until 2009 for the stars to align and give us what we wanted. That year, the long-in-production film SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO RESURRECTION debuted. This was a straight up sequel set 20 years after the original YAMATO cycle. When a roving Black Hole is on a collision course with Earth, Mankind must emigrate to another world. The planet Amare offers to take Earth’s population, but the first and second emigration fleets are attacked by the forces of the intergalactic power SUS and destroyed–including Nova’s flagship (she isn’t seen in this movie pretty much at all, apart from in flashbacks and photos.) Wildstar is pulled back out of retirement by Sandor, who is now the Earth Defense Commander (with Jordie Venture as his right hand man.) They’ve rebuilt and updated the Yamato from the wreckage in wake of Aquarius, and Wildstar takes off with a mostly-new crew (one or two oldsters are still on board, such as Orion’s son) to save humanity, get to the bottom of who is attacking them and why, and to find is missing wife. He’s also estranged from his teenage daughter Miyuki, who spends most of her time rescuing animals alongside Doctor Sane and IQ-9. RESURRECTION is something of a mixed bag–for one thing, nobody bothered to score it properly. They simply dropped in old music cues from older Yamato films and even classical music pieces where necessary. As a result, the music, one of the real strengths of YAMATO, often misfires. Additionally, two endings were shot, and Japanese fans at the first screenings were permitted to vote on which ending would get released. Unfortunately but understandably, the Japanese fans voted for the safe ending, in which the Yamato is able to destroy the approaching Black Hole and save Earth by firing all six chambers of its new 6-Shot Wave-Motion Gun at once. The other version, in which mankind is saved but the Earth itself is lost, carried more power.

In 2010, there was an even bigger surprise–one that motivated my first trip to far-off Japan: the live action SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO movie was released, starring musician Takuya Kimura as Wildstar. The film essentially compresses the entirety of the first television series as well as a number of key moments from SARABA into a single dense narrative, taking liberties along the way so as to help make an old story still feel new. Perhaps the biggest change was recasting Nova as an ace fighter pilot very much in the mold of the 21st Century revival of BATTESTAR: GALACTICA’s Starbuck. (In fact, the film cribs much of its aesthetic and design look from BSG.) In condensing so much story down to a two-hour-plus run time, something had to give, and here that something was the enemy Gamilons. No longer a military power, they’re rather a sort of energy hive-mind that sometimes calls itself Desslok. (Iscandar is, similarly, the other half of this hive mind being.) This killed the movie for a lot of fans, but not me. I unreservedly loved it–it captured the spirit of those STAR BLAZERS episodes I had watched decades before

In 2012, the next penny dropped, with the serialized release of SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO 2199, a remake and updating of the original show. Which made a lot of sense–part of the reason for RESURRECTION’s lukewarm performance was that its main audience was people who’d seen the original shows. In places, 2199 is virtually a shot-for-shot remake, but the further it goes on, the more it veers from the original voyage. And there’s good and bad here. Overall, it’s a very nice production with a lot of smarts. The Yamato’s crew is filled out with many more roles of significance for women. And realizing that it made no sense for the ship to be blown half to hell in the middle of space and then repaired, the new show gave Yamato Wave-Motion Shields similar to those of the Enterprise. The downside to all of this, though, is that there’s a certain humanity that I find is lacking in 2199. Throughout its 26 episodes, nobody seems particularly worried about their mission or the potential extinction of mankind. Hell, the Yamato has a playful and bubbly internal radio station. Speaking with a number of animators in Japan one time, it was posited that the difference here was in which generation was making the cartoon. The original animators had largely lived through postwar Japan, and they were very much aware of the power of the A-Bomb and the toll of war. But the animators of today haven’t had to face such a thing directly themselves, and so that sense of existential dread is missing.

The success of 2199 brought two follow-up films. The first, SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO: A VOYAGE TO REMEMBER, was yet another compilation movie, compressing the 2199 season into a two-plus hour epic. Of greater note was SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO: ODYSSEY OF THE CELESTIAL ARK, which tells an all-new tale of an adventure the ship goes through on the long voyage back to Earth from Iscandar. In this trippy and oddly-paced story, the Yamato and her crew must ally themselves with a squad of Gamilons left over from their battle in the Rainbow Star Cluster in order to meet the attack of rogue ships from the Comet Empire. In essence, this film sets the table for a sequel to SARABA/YAMATO 2. Apart from that, I have to say that I didn’t really find this production memorable. It was certainly nice to get some more YAMATO content after 2199 wrapped, though.

As predicted, 2017 brought the debut of the serialized SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO 2202, a sequel series serialized over 26 episodes and loosely based on SARABA and YAMATO 2. This was, to be honest about it, a bit of a mixed bag on every front. In narrative terms, every beat that YAMATO 2 hits strongly, 2202 bungles. The production seems much more concerned with fixing things that didn’t need fixing (How did the Earth fleet get created in such a short time? There’s a Time Fault caused by the Cosmo-Reverse System!) as well as taking the breaks off on the scale of the battle sequences. It’s almost impossible to take any of the stakes seriously given the amount of firepower that is released on an episode-by-episode basis (especially since, in the new paradigm, the Yamato can’t actually suffer much actual damage. But there are two big cop-outs in 2202 that are worth mentioning. The first is that, at the end of 2199, Captain Avatar and his crew promised Starsha that they wouldn’t use Wave-Motion Gun technology ever again. Wildstar wrestles with this in 2202–and ultimately he and everybody else do it anyway, and they try to hand-wave it with some nonsense that’s completely unconvincing. I understand what is at stake here, but there’s no way these characters break the Captain’s solemn promise. (And, of course, we WANT them to break it–we want to see the Yamato unload with that super-weapon to devastating effect.) The second is that 2202 wants to both have the SARABA ending and to set up sequels–so its second-to-last episode has Wildstar and Nova kamikaze the ship into Zordar’s Ark weapon (all of the Comet Empire designs have been reworked, and mostly not for the better) and in the final episode, Trelaina essentially spits them and the ship back out into the Time Fault so that they can go on additional voyages. It’s one of the most bullshitty endings I’ve ever seen. You can’t have it both ways, guys.

That brings things right up to today. Rumor has it that any future YAMATO projects won’t be based on the old canon but will go off in their own directions, a decision that I would applaud. And even if this is the end of tings for the time being, it’s a damn sight more than we ever thought we would get back around Y2K or thereabouts.

One thought on “In Our Next STAR BLAZERS Adventure

  1. That whole “let’s explain this odd thing from the original series” gimmick from Yamato 2199/2202 was both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. When they did it right, they were inspired by the odd thing to create interesting new plotlines that deepened the story (turning the “Caucasian” Gamilons into a race that had been annexed into the Empire as second-class citizens, and exploring the political and social issues around that as well as making comic-relief Ganz and Bain into sympathetic, tragic characters) but when they did it wrong you got stuff like the Time Fault. How did Earth rebuild so quickly? The answer is don’t worry about it.

    Though what makes me saddest is Venture and Treleina’s relationship being completely excised from 2202 in favor of stuff basically no one cared about.

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