Star Blazers 2202 – Part One

I grew up with reruns of the original Star Trek. I was eleven-years-old and obsessed with Star Wars when it came out. However, there was a third series I loved as much as those and that was Space Battleship Yamato, perhaps better known to American fans as Star Blazers. The series was something of a mainstay of Japanese television and cinemas from 1974 until 1983 when the movie Final Yamato was released. In 2010, a good, albeit dark, live action movie was made. However, what I’ve been delighted to see is that the anime is being given a quality remake. Season One, set in the year 2199, was released six years ago. Season Two, set in 2202, started its run last year. It’s being released as a series of seven movies, which will then be broken up into television episodes. What’s more, the new Star Blazers has finally garnered US distribution and I’ve just finished watching the first half of Star Blazers 2202.

In the first season, aliens known as Gamilas have invaded the solar system and bombed the surface of the Earth until it’s uninhabitable. What’s left of humanity has retreated underground. They receive a message from an alien called Starsha who sends plans for a fantastic wave motion engine. She says if they can build a ship and get to her on the planet Iscandar, she can give them technology to clean up the planet. Captain Okita gathers a crew aboard the titular Yamato and they set off. At the risk of a spoiler, they succeed, though not without sacrifices and major changes to galactic regimes.

In the second season, a new enemy has appeared called the Gatlanteans. Somehow, Earth has managed to build a whole fleet of warships based on Yamato’s technology in a very short time and the “somehow” is addressed as part of the mystery of the series. In the meantime, the former crew of the Yamato receive a psychic distress call from a goddess-like alien called Teresa. She needs help and is also threatened by the Gatlanteans. However, Earth doesn’t want to help. It’s up to the crew of the Yamato to reunite in defiance of Earth’s government to find out who Teresa is and help her if they can.

One of the things I loved in the first season was that they took some care to update the science, and while the series takes some liberties in the name of telling a good space opera yarn, it was not bad. The second season does allow itself to fall into some 70’s SF tropes. The Gatlantean’s mobile base, which looks like a planet-sized comet is sometimes called a Quasar. Scientists today wouldn’t call it that—though it is reasonable that such a body would probably have huge radio emissions and might resemble a Quasar at first glance. Also, the asteroid belt is far too densely populated.

Both seasons are full of blink-and-you-miss-it moments. At times this can make watching the series a challenge, but it also means the series stands up to repeat viewings. I often catch things on a second or third pass that I missed the first time. This is also a series I enjoy watching both in subtitled and dubbed versions. The subtitles help me focus on the dialog while the dubbed versions let me just look at what’s going on while people are talking.

One thing the 2202 season has added that’s interesting is product placement. There are some familiar logos appearing here and there. It’s a little sad, but anime of this quality is notoriously expensive. I’m willing to put up with some of this if it allows the creators to continue making a quality show.

I’ve heard the updated Star Blazers called one of the best science fiction anime. I’d actually go a little further. It’s easily one of my top ten favorite all-time science fiction series and possibly even one of my top five. It’s definitely worth a look. The complete season one along with the first half of season two are available with subtitles at Crunchyroll.com. It’s available with English dubbing at Funimation.com. Note, to watch most of season two on Funimation you currently have to subscribe, but if I read the release schedule correctly, it’ll be available without subscription starting on August 31.

What about the second half of season two? As I mentioned, season two is being produced as seven motion pictures. Only five of those have been released in Japan. Two are still awaiting release. It appears that Crunchyroll and Funimation are putting the series on hiatus at the mid-point until the series is finished. If you’re a fan of Star Blazers or just want more information about the show, Tim Eldred runs an excellent website: OurStarBlazers.com.

Space Battleship Yamato

In 1978, I was still under the spell of Star Wars, the original Battlestar Galactica was on the air, and I was eagerly awaiting the first Star Trek movie. One day, TV station KTLA from Los Angeles showed a Japanese movie that held me spellbound. It was called Space Cruiser Yamato. It echoed many of the space operatic themes of those other shows, but upped the ante in many ways. Life on Earth had been bombed into near extinction by a race of malevolent aliens. To save it, a valiant crew embarked on an interstellar quest for help aboard the only spaceship available—a World War II warship converted into a star vessel with the help of alien technology. Many characters gave their lives to save others and there seemed a real chance Yamato would not succeed in its mission.

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This show was not the first anime I’d seen, but it was certainly the most dramatic and serious. I was hooked. A year later, I learned that the movie had been cut together from a TV series. The series debuted in the United States under the name Star Blazers. At first, I was disappointed. They changed the names of all the characters. They even changed the name of the ship. The Yamato was rechristened the Argo. It wasn’t until high school that I learned the names were changed for both the movie and the series by the American companies that dubbed them into English. A friend shared video tapes he’d purchased in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo neighborhood. That’s how I first met Captain Okita, Susumu Kodai, and Yuki Mori in their original forms. I didn’t understand all the words, but my friend narrated the show and I fell even further under its spell. That’s when I learned the proper name of the series: Space Battleship Yamato

There’s no doubt the show had an influence on my writing. Suki from The Pirates of Sufiro was an homage to Yuki Mori, the Yamato’s radar operator and nurse. It seems pretty obvious when I present the names side by side like this, but when Pirates was released, most Americans knew Yuki as Nova Forrester. Likewise, Space Battleship Yamato first made me consider how big a disaster humanity could survive and what it would take to stand up to that threat. Following that path led me to Heirs of the New Earth. That novel also includes a nod to Yamato’s Chief Engineer Tokugawa in the form of Chief Engineer Kimura who finds a way to launch the grounded pirate ship Legacy.

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I was delighted to discover that Toho Studios made a live-action version of Space Battleship Yamato back in 2010. Two weeks ago, I received my copy of the Blu Ray disk. The new movie is amazingly faithful to the source material. They did swap the genders of some key characters, but that was fine. One of my problems with the original Space Battleship Yamato is that the cast had too few women. Another interesting, and sad, choice was the death of a major character. Even so, the theme of personal sacrifice was important in Yamato, so I see this in keeping with the spirit of the original.

I’ve seen some on-line comments which suggest that the movie borrowed heavily from J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek and Ron Moore’s re-imagined Battlestar Galactica. There’s probably some truth to that, but close as the movie is to its source material, it seems just as fair to suggest those productions borrowed from Yamato in the first place. Among other things, I gather George Lucas was strongly influenced by the space dogfights of Space Battleship Yamato and R2-D2 bears more than a passing resemblance to Yamato’s robot, Analyzer. After all, Space Battleship Yamato first aired in 1974, a full three years before Star Wars.

I recently discovered that the first season of Space Battleship Yamato has been remade. The new version is called Space Battleship Yamato 2199. Information and a 13-minute trailer are available at starblazers.com. Unfortunately, it looks like each disk of the seven-disk limited edition set is retailing for $35 to $45 depending on vendor and format. That price is a little steep for my writer and astronomer income. I hope they’ll eventually release a mass-market edition at a lower price or release it to one of the streaming services so more of us can enjoy it. Even so, I’m delighted to see that after 40 years, Yamato is still traversing the heavens on its quest to save Earth.