Chronicles of a first-time Star Blazer

I'm what some may call a new-school fan. I haven't been watching anime since the "old days." I haven't traded VHS tapes with a guy in California just to get the latest episode of Mobile Suit Gundam. So why, you ask, would I ever watch a show from the 1970s when I could easily stream a new episode of Naruto? Other than the obvious "getting perspective on anime history," I submit that I am watching Star Blazers because it's just plain GOOD.

To begin, let me give you a little backstory on the epic anime title known interchangeably as Star Blazers (American reversioning) and Space Battleship Yamato (Japanese original). Released in Japan in 1974 under the title of Uchuu Senkan Yamato (Space Battleship Yamato), this space epic is often cited as the beginning of the "Golden Age of Anime." The brainchild of manga-ka Leiji Matsumoto (Captain Harlock, Galaxy Express 999), and produced by the controversial Yoshinobu Nishizaki, Yamato was the story of the rebuilt Japanese battleship Yamato, which was sunk in World War II before ever seeing battle. In order to fight the alien menace of the Gamilas (Gamilons in Star Blazers), the Earth Forces construct a super-powerful spaceship using the ruins of the Yamato. The revived ship, christened as the "Argo" in the English version, is staffed by a new military crew known as the "Star Force."

I got my hands on this treasure of a show through a friend who was rewatching the entire series from beginning to end. Since I picked it up in the middle of his Yamato journey, I began my experience with episode 18 of the second season (the Comet Empire arc). As a breed of aliens bent on control of the universe hurtles toward earth on the massive comet they call home, the Star Force must race to reach Earth first and save its people from alien domination!

When I first put in the disc, I was not surprised to see the cheap animation most people have come to associate with the 1970s and early 1980s. And of course, the dub of the show was cheesy as can be. So how the heck could it be good? Well, take one look at the Yamato (Argo) itself, and you might get an idea of how Leiji Matsumoto's art direction and mechanical designs save this show from its other flaws. Every time I watch the Yamato speed away with its thrusters turned toward the camera, I'll admit that I let out a little gasp of excitement. Something about the massive grandeur of the Yamato is able to instill the same powerful emotions in me as that opening song in Star Wars. In the world of space operas, the action, the characters, and the plot just can't measure up to simple artistic beauty.

That's not to say that Star Blazers doesn't succeed with some very entertaining suspense, action, and character development. When the Earth Defense fleet is being bombarded by heat rays from the Comet Empire fleet, for example, they force the enemy ships to enter Saturn's ice-cold rings in order to render their deadly attacks useless. And the prolonged mourning of such characters as the beautiful alien Trelaina (Teresa in the Japanese) and the comrades of space marine Knox (Hajime Saito) shows an attention to the realities of life and death that was not often seen in anime of the time.

When I watched Star Blazers, I couldn't help but pick up on the powerful messages held in the Star Force's brave story. Fighting off death at every turn, these desperate human beings represent not only the embattled Japanese Empire in the waning months of the Pacific War, but also humanity as a whole. It is difficult to not be moved by these stories of a future race of humans forced into a corner time after time. Only their unstoppable will to survive and unconquerable bravery can save Mother Earth from total destruction. It is a universal story that any fan of good storytelling, old or young, can relate to without a shadow of doubt.


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