Once per decade or so, a story comes along that grabs onto the pop culture psyche in such a way that it seems inexhaustible. In the 1970s, it happened twice on opposite sides of the globe; Star Wars grabbed America in 1977 almost exactly the same way Space Battleship Yamato grabbed Japan in 1974. The proof was in the staggering number of ways the story could be absorbed in the years before home video. Between scattered TV reruns, the first Yamato series could be relived through multiple novelizations, manga adaptations, children's books and records, trading cards, and slowly publications aimed at older audiences appeared that lead the way to the anime boom.
Yamato took almost ten years to reach home video, but even that didn't quench Japan's thirst. The digital electronics revolution pushed the story into emerging formats so that in short order you could voyage with Yamato to Iscandar and back in increasingly sophisticated ways. One could speculate that the pre-video void played a role in Yamato's longevity, since manufacturers and consumers alike had no choice but to explore alternatives. But the desire to immerse oneself in the adventure was only temporarily sated once you could do so on demand.
As 1974 receded, retellings of the first Yamato series became increasingly inventive and interactive as it was retooled for video game and pachinko platforms. The now-legendary characters and mecha were updated in numerous styles to keep up with the evolution of anime. The long-awaited live-action movie (first envisioned all the way back in 1980) took it about as far as anyone could imagine when it premiered in 2010. The need to squeeze 26 episodes into 2.5 hours required heavy story compromises in exchange for its state-of-the-art spectacle. Naturally, opinions were mixed depending upon how many compromises you were prepared to accept, but it still took us all the way to Iscandar and back.
That's a lot of setup for one simple statement, but here it is: Yamato is on its way to Iscandar again. The one-year countdown clock has been reset for the human race. Deadly danger and manly romance await in the depths of unexplored space. Even the title is only slightly different: Space Battleship Yamato 2199.
If you're wondering what this story could possibly still have to offer after so much exposure, be assured that the people making it grappled with exactly the same dilemma when they started developing it about four years ago. Pre-production began at roughly the same time as the live-action movie and an animated feature film titled Yamato Resurrection (2009), and a tightrope stretched out in front of Director Yutaka Izubuchi right from the start.
A diehard fan since childhood, he had to decide how to modernize the story while still honoring source material that had been around long enough for a whole generation to imprint upon it. Upgrading the design and filmmaking style was a foregone conclusion, but no one felt they would be making the most of this opportunity if they stopped there. A solid decade of Yamato games and the live-action film had proven that a by-the-numbers remake wasn't necessary. Instead, new characters and subplots could inject fresh life into the story, and much could be done to smooth out aspects that hadn't aged as well. Things that an audience of the 70s accepted without question would ring false to today's viewers, who have benefited from the thirty-plus years of anime that picked up where the original Yamato left off.
This 'middle path' turned out to be the best choice; new viewers get the whole experience without baggage and old viewers get to see their favorite again as if for the first time. As character designer Nobuteru Yuuki put it, Yamato has been seen over the years as a stone that has gathered moss, but a stone can be polished. Though it looks irrevocably dated to us now, Yamato was absolutely cutting edge material when it premiered, and now it's on the cutting edge again.
Six episodes of Yamato 2199 have been released so far (in the first two of seven planned theatrical features), and the approach has already proven itself. It's also moving along at a much snappier pace; nine episodes of content have been covered, and were told that this gain will be used to carve out new territory as things progress. At the moment, the third film (to contain four more episodes) is schedule to premiere in October with the home video to follow in November. It behooves me to point out that the Japanese Blu-rays are compatible with US players and come with English subtitles. They sell at substantial Japanese price points, but provide you with the rare opportunity to (A) support a production in real time and (B) forget how much it cost as soon as the pictures start to roll.
Naturally, there's an ever-increasing wave of media coverage and spinoff products, all of which are regularly reported at starblazers.com. This will continue for as long as there is news to tell, which at this point looks to be well into 2013. Speaking personally, the part I'm enjoying most is reliving the excitement of seeing the voyage to Iscandar for the first time when it unfolded in the form of Star Blazers back in 1979. With the original at my fingertips, the last thing I wanted was a remake that added nothing. Instead, I'm getting exactly what I hoped for: a retelling with its own flavor that preserves the warm, beating heart of the original.
History says this probably still isn't the last time Yamato will go to Iscandar, but no matter how many more times it happens, it will always have an appreciative audience. That's what it is to be a legend.
Reviewed by Tim Eldred, October 2012
Space Battleship Yamato Movie Collection
Anime DVD Review
The internet is buzzing over the clips and reports of a new Yamato animated movie in the works (and a live-action film!). With legal sparring between Nishizaki and Matsumoto finally resolved (!), anime old-timers are frothing at the mouth regarding this prospect, as there has not been a Yamato movie since 1983 — probably before most of the people reading this were even BORN!
Here's your chance to understand what all the excitement is about. The Yamato Movie Collection.
Okay, skip the first film unless you have no idea who the characters are, as the film is basically a re-hash, and composed of clips from the TV series. But savor the next film (Farewell), for it is the yardstick by which we measure all other anime. To this day, no movie has even come close to topping this achievement, and yes, you'll be weeping by the end.
And then enjoy the next two (New Voyage, Be Forever) because they are just a great load of fun. And then we come to "Final" Yamato, which still looks great even though it was produced while you were in diapers. And let's not forget the music. The soundtracks are half the film! You've probably never seen anime that uses a real orchestra!
There's not a manga or anime artist that *isn't* a fan of Yamato. To understand them you need to understand *it*. You need to know WHY we're so passionate about a series that's older than you are. And this is the best starting point for a crash course in Yamato.
Reviewed by Brian Cirulnick, November 2009
Space Battle Ship Yamato
Anime Soundtrack Review
Dear Santa. If I had to pick one item I really want for Xmas, this would be it. This is a 10-CD set of every Yamato soundtrack. All CDs are 24-bit digitally remastered LP-STYLE slipcase versions, and sound about as good as can be (as opposed to my old recordings, so worn out, you can hear the other side of the record).
The Limited Edition 30th Anniversary Yamato BGM Box Set Release, featuring 10 instrumental recordings originally recorded between 1977 and 1983. These are REAL orchestras producing this music, not some wimpy electronic keyboard with a MIDI sequencer. And you can feel the difference in every single note. It's a big sound from the days when only John Williams could make a swashbuckling space-opera sound any more compelling.
The CD set is literally the history of the Yamato series as music. Everything from the opening orgasmic cosmo-chick of the first episode of the TV series to the full orchestral overload that is Final Yamato is in here, ready to blast through your speakers loud enough to wake the dead (or get Nishizaki and Matsumoto to team up again, or Hell to freeze over, whichever comes first!).
Reviewed by Brian Cirulnick, November 2006
Quest for Iscandar Anime DVD Review
We're off to outer space, we're leaving mother Earth, so save the human race . It's a blast from the past! So classic that it must be seen to be appreciated. Okay, the animation is a little crude looking compared to the ultra-slick anime of today, but don't be put off by it this series has the greatest plot ever put to the screen. It was in many ways the blueprint for so many films that followed, both in Japan and in the U.S. (Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, etc., all owe their lineage to a sunken WWII battleship).
Created by anime legend Leiji Matsumoto (Harlock, Galaxy Express), Star Blazers (Uchu Senkan Yamato in Japan) spawned 3 TV series, 5 movies, a zillion copycats and next to Mobile Suit Gundam was one of the longest running anime franchises in Japan. And it all started here with these simple words: In the year 2199 Earth is under attack from the mysterious planet Gamilon. Gamilon planet bombs cover the Earth with radioactivity and as a result, Earth has one year to live. But, on the planet Iscandar, there is a machine which can remove the radioactivity. Queen Starsha offers it to the people of Earth. A team of star blazers undertake the perilous journey, but, can they travel 148,000 light years and back in just one Earth year?
When the show hit the airwaves in America (1979), it created the first legions of anime fans who continue to hail it to this day. Make no mistake the storyline and characters are classic and memorable. The music and art direction are top notch and (for the time) above reproach. It was, and remains the most original and revered anime series of all time. The DVD also has special features like a complete interactive map of the Star Force's journey which make this a "must have" for an old time fan.
Reviewed by Brian Cirulnick, May 2002
Space Battleship Yamato - Original Soundtrack, Part 1 (1979) [IMPORT] Anime Soundtrack Review
There has never been, nor will there ever be a better score written than the music for Uchu Senkan Yamato (Star Blazers in the U.S.). It's romantic, heroic, tragic, and kick-ass all at the same time, and it never fails to please the ears. If you grew up watching Starblazers you know what we're talking about - the music was half the show!
With a sly combination of electric guitar and brassy orchestral compositions, heart-tugging violins and everything else under the sun, Hiroshi Miyagawa created an eclectic blend of music that went on to become the most well-known since the theme to Tetsuwan Atomu. His orchestrations legitimized anime music, and created a slew of followers that copied but never equaled his brilliance.