Back in August, I discussed my thoughts about the Space Battleship Yamato motion picture. At the end of the post, I noted that a new series had been produced called Space Battleship Yamato 2199. The new series is basically a remake of the 1974 “Quest for Iscandar” season of the original series. I finally had the opportunity to watch the new series and I was thoroughly impressed. I just spent the week before Christmas rewatching the whole thing with my daughter and not only did it hold up, but I enjoyed it even more the second time around. The series is well worth seeking out if you’re a fan of either the original Space Battleship Yamato or anime in general.
As Space Battleship Yamato 2199 opens, Earth has been bombed into a dry husk by aliens from the Large Magellanic Cloud called Gamillas. Humanity has little more than a year to survive. Fortunately, aliens from the planet Iscandar have a device that can help save Earth if the humans can come pick it up. The Iscandarans have sent a drive that will allow humans to warp through space much faster than the speed of light. The humans build a starship in the form of the World War II battleship Yamato and equip it with the so-called wave motion engine. The crew sets off for Iscandar in the hope of saving Earth but the Gamillas do everything in their power to stand in the Yamato’s way.
The original Space Battleship Yamato focused on Susumu Kodai, a young Earth officer pressed into service aboard the Yamato because all available senior officers had been killed defending Earth from the Gamilas. Captain Okita of the Yamato takes Kodai under his wing. The story has a feeling not unlike the tale of Luke Skywalker and Obi Wan Kenobi from Star Wars. That’s not the only similarity. Dogfights between Yamato’s fighters and those of the Gamilas are commonplace. There’s just enough similarity that I remember when the show was first introduced in the United States as Space Cruiser Yamato in 1978, critics accused it of being a Star Wars rip off … until they realized that Yamato appeared three years before Star Wars!
The new series follows the original closely, but adds several new characters including several women, who were noticeably lacking in the original. With the new characters come several interesting story arcs. It turns out the crew of the Yamato is not one big happy family. They all want to save humanity, but they believe there are different ways to achieve that end.
The new series worked strongly to keep everything that was cool about the original, while fixing plot holes, gaffes and things that were just plain goofy and embarrassing in the original. The Bee People of Beemela are just a memory, the Yamato’s construction is much less miraculous, Analyzer no longer sexually harasses Yuki, and the Gamillas don’t mysteriously change skin hue. I was especially pleased to see that they brought on a good team of science advisers and largely listened to them. There were a few times they hand-waved the science in the interests of story, but I was impressed with how much this was kept to a minimum.
The end result was that Space Battleship Yamato 2199 easily stands up with my favorite science fiction television series, such as Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Babylon Five and Firefly. In fact, after spending this last week watching the whole thing for a second time, I think I’d rank it as my second favorite SF series after Firefly. Every episode was engaging and contributed to the overall story arc. The characters, humans, Gamillas, and Iscandarans, all had a wide range of agendas and motivations. All the characters felt quite real.
As an anime series, Space Battleship Yamato does have its share of angst and fan service. It’s hard to say the Gamillan agenda makes complete sense, but it’s also hard to say how much of that is muddied by the multitude of agendas, much as things in the real world often are. Every now and then the CG effects didn’t always blend seamlessly with the traditional animation, but overall, the show held together quite well. Sadly, finding affordable copies is not altogether easy, but it’s a quest well worth taking.
One of my Christmas gifts this year was a beautifully detailed model of the Yamato from the new series. I look forward to building it once I get to a good break point on the new novel. It will take a place of honor next to my models of the Enterprise and the Firefly.
Space Battleship Yamato 2199 poster art copyright Bandai Visual and used to illustrate critical commentary of the series.