Anime Spotlight: Space Battleship Yamato/Star Blazers

Space Battleship Yamato, which is better known to American audiences as Star Blazers, started out as an anime series in Japan in 1974. The series was conceived by Yoshinobu Nishizaki and directed by Leiji Matsumoto. When the series first aired on Japanese television, it didn’t perform very well in the ratings.

The original 26 episodes were then condensed into a theatrical film that screened in Japanese theaters in 1977. The film version of the first series performed so well in theaters, that a second Space Battleship Yamato film, Farewell to Space Battleship Yamato, was produced. This film was originally intended to end the story, but the film performed so well that a second Space Battleship Yamato television anime series was produced. While the series used some of the elements from the second film, the television series drastically changed the tone of the story.

A television movie, Space Battleship Yamato: The New Voyage, and another theatrical film, Be Forever Yamato, followed. A third season of Space Battleship Yamato aired on Japanese television in 1980, and 1983 saw the release of the theatrical film, Final Yamato.

About Space Battleship Yamato

The story begins in the year 2199, when an alien race called the Gamilas unleash radioactive meteorites on Earth. The surface of the planet becomes unlivable, so humanity has to retreat into deep underground cities. Unfortunately, the radioactivity is seeping underground, and it is predicted that mankind will become extinct within one year.

During the first episode, Earth’s space fleet fights a desperate battle against the Gamilas out in space. Earth’s fleet is losing the battle and all seems lost until a mysterious spaceship zips past and crash lands on Mars. Two recruits stationed on the planet, Susumu Kodai and Daisuke Shima, find a woman clutching a message capsule. The woman is deceased, but the recruits take the capsule back to Earth.

It turns out the capsule is a message from Stasha, the queen of a planet called Iscandar. Included in the capsule are the blueprints for a faster-than-light engine, so the Earthlings can make it to Iscandar to get a device called the Cosmo-Cleaner D that can cleanse the radiation damage on Earth, and be able to return to their home planet in one year.

A spaceship is built inside the ruins of the Yamato, a Japanese battleship that sunk during World War II. Captain Okita, along with the crew of the Yamato, undertake the mission to Iscandar. On the way, they have encounters with the Gamilas, who try to destroy the Yamato.

Space Battleship Yamato in North America

In 1979, Westchester Corporation bought the rights to the first two seasons of Space Battleship Yamato to be dubbed and edited for the American audience. These became known as the “Quest for Iscandar” and “The Comet Empire” episodes, respectively. These two seasons originally aired on American television in 1979 and 1980.

When the dub was produced, it was decided to change the name of the ship from the Yamato to the Argo. Changing the name of the ship meant that the title of the series would have to be changed. For the English dub, the series was re-titled to Star Blazers. The Gamilas were changed to become Gamilons. In addition, the characters’ names were all changed to be more “Western”: Captain Okita became Captain Avatar, Susumu Kodai became Derek Wildstar, Daisuke Shima became Mark Venture, etc.

When the rights for the third Space Battleship Yamato series became available, Peter Fernandez grabbed the rights to produce an English dub of it. When Fernandez acquired the rights, he brought in different voice actors to provide the voices for the characters. This third season, which is known as “The Bolar Wars,” was only aired to a small test market at the time. This series wasn’t widely seen until it was released on VHS and DVD.

Space Battleship Yamato and Its Future

In the mid-1990’s, Yoshinobu Nishizaki attempted to create a sequel to Yamato, called Yamato 2520. This series was supposed to follow the adventures of the 18th starship to bear the Yamato name. Unfortunately, this series never got very far. Nishizaki’s company, Office Academy, went bankrupt, and there were legal disputes with Leiji Matsumoto over the ownership of the Yamato copyrights. Only four episodes of this series were produced.

In March of 2002, it was ruled that Nishizaki legally owns the Yamato copyrights. After a settlement, Nishizaki was able to begin work on the Space Battleship Yamato: Resurrection film, which was released to Japanese theaters in 2009.

A live-action Space Battleship Yamato film was released in Japan in 2010, and it debuted at number one at the Japanese box office. Space Battleship Yamato 2199 is a remake of the first Space Battleship Yamato television anime series that began being screened a few episodes at a time in Japanese theaters prior to its release on home video. The series began airing on Japanese television on April 7, 2013.

My Impressions

I was first exposed to this franchise through seeing Star Blazers on television in the early 1980’s. Since I had lived in Japan as a young child prior to that, I could tell that it was something that originally came from Japan. Even though I was a kid, I fell in love with the story and the storytelling. Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to see the original Japanese version of the series to be able to tell what differences there are between the Japanese and American versions of the series.

The closest I have come to that is seeing the first two Space Battleship Yamato films, since the first is a condensed version of the first series and the second film is a drastically different version of the second series. Over the past few years, I have also seen the English dub of the third series, Space Battleship Yamato: The New Voyage, Be Forever Yamato, and Final Yamato.

Since I had grown up seeing the first two Star Blazers series, it was a bit of a shock and adjustment to see the other Space Battleship Yamato productions, especially anything after the second series. On the one hand, I was happy to have more stories with these characters that I had loved so much growing up. On the other, though, it was quite an adjustment to get used to these stories and what happened to these characters in these productions.

I haven’t had the chance to see the live-action film, Space Battleship Yamato: Resurrection, or Space Battleship Yamato 2199. At the time of this writing, FUNimation Entertainment has acquired the rights for Space Battleship Yamato: Resurrection, so it looks like I will eventually be able to see that film. I’m really hoping that at such a point that I’m able to see it, that I will enjoy it.

Even though Space Battleship Yamato may not have been very popular when it was first released on Japanese television in 1974, it went on to become a landmark anime franchise in Japan. It has endured enough that nearly 40 years later, there are still new films and series being produced and released.

While Star Blazers may not have the same kind of “landmark” status in America as Space Battleship Yamato has in Japan, it holds a strong place of nostalgia in the hearts of anime fans in America who first saw the series when it aired on television during their childhood in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.

Unfortunately, I don’t know how strong of an appeal the Yamato franchise could have for younger anime viewers. While my 15-year-old daughter really enjoys Star Blazers and the Space Battleship Yamato films that she has seen, she could be more of the exception than the rule. Hopefully when FUNimation releases Space Battleship Yamato: Resurrection, it will help raise the profile of the franchise with younger anime fans and viewers.

Additional post about Space Battleship Yamato/Star Blazers:

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