What’s the one thing you’ve always wanted as a fan? A really perfect figure rendition of your favorite character, with optional “cast off” functionality so you could remove her clothes? A second season of your favorite anime that properly resolved the love relationships in the perfect way? For me, it was always one thing: to get a remake of the awesome “Comet Empire” arc of Space Battleship Yamato, the epic animated space opera that aired in Japan in 1974, and in the U.S. as Star Blazers in 1979. Amazingly, I got my wish, in the form of Space Battleship Yamato 2202!
Space Battleship Yamato, more than any other anime series, is responsible for me finding my calling as a professional anime blogger. It’s the story of
Japan Earth in the year 2199, which is being relentlessly being bombed by radiation bombs by the evil Gamilas empire (Gamilons in the U.S. version). Humanity has been driven to the brink, and all life will perish within one year if nothing is done. But wait! An offer of help has been extended by Starsha of the planet Iscandar. If humanity can make the 186,000 light-year journey to the Andromeda Galaxy and back again within that time, they can use the advanced technology Starsha offers to remove the radiation from Earth and restore life and peace.
I remember discovering Star Blazers as a boy, and was instantly intrigued. It featured a melodramatic story with episodes you had to watch in order or you wouldn’t be able to follow the story. It featured characters who fell in love and kiss and die, and best of all, a story that resolved itself at the end. Nothing like it had ever existed before in the West, and I was enthralled.
The Godfather 2/Empire Effect
One of the odd rules of the universe seems to be that the second volume in a series of creative works always seems to be the best. The original work is fantastic, but something about its sequel taking the characters and story elements of the original and executing an even better story seems eternal. There are many examples: The Empire Strike Back. Godfather II. Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn. Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. I could go on. Let’s call this the Godfather 2/Empire effect.
This happened with Space Battleship Yamato, too. While the first Iscandar arc was fantastic, enthralling me as a young boy as the Yamato/Argo rushed back to Earth to save everyone with the Cosmo-Cleaner D (Cosmo DNA) technology that would remove the radiation from
Hiroshima Earth, the sequel was even better. This was the Comet Empire arc, the hugely dramatic story of the crew of the Yamato doing battle with a terrible empire that’s based inside a white comet that travels around the universe conquoring other races.
Spoiler Warning! While I’ll avoid specific spoilers, I’ll be discussing the elements I liked (and disliked) of the two Yamato remakes. If you haven’t seen them yet and don’t want to know story details, stop reading now.
Space Battleship Yamato 2199 Overview
First, some info on the outstanding remake of the original Iscandar arc, which I evangelized quite heavily to J-List readers at the time, and thanks to the English subtitles that were included with the Blu-rays, sold several hundred copies for the studio. It was a proper retelling of the original 1974 original story, with every important element preserved, as well as some cool additions. These included…
- They took plenty of cues from other mainstream anime series, giving the crew Gundam-style Normal Suits (space suits), and giving the Gamilas a Zentraedi-style language.
- They added some interesting story elements. In the new version, Yuki Mori (Nova) is the adopted daughter of Captain Hijikata (Captain Gideon), and has lost her memory for some reason.
- Many questions of moral ambiguity are introduced into the story, including that Wave Motion technology is not supposed to be used for war but only for peace, making it something like the Void Which Binds from the Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons. Also, the human/Gamilas war might have been started by Captain Okita himself, who opened fire without verifying whether a ship they encountered was friendly or not.
In the #SBYamato2199 and #SBYamato2202 remakes, tons of female characters were added to the story, to increase the “moe” factor and give the studio a chance to sell figures to fans. I was 100% okay with these changes. pic.twitter.com/DEPV9o76u7
— Peter Payne (@JListPeter) October 15, 2019
- Because we live in the modern era of moe anime, fans need a lot more female characters in order to feel connected to a series, and we got them, with fighter pilot Akira Yamamoto and Gamilas pilot Melda Dietz being changed from male in the original to female, and replacing Dr. Sado’s stupid cat with a sexy female nurse who had an important arc in both series. Among other things, having more female characters allows for elements every modern anime needs, including beach/bath episodes and sexy figures for fans to buy.
- We also live in a world where enigmatic BL characters are a thing. So what did the creators do? Turn Dessler (Desslock) into a gorgeous bishie character voiced by legendary voice actor Koichi Yamadera.
- The creators of the new Yamato did cool things like finishing episodes that had been planned for the 1974 original series but had to be cut due to budget issues. They also updated the historical aspects of the show. The original series rebuilt the Yamato from the inside out where she lay on the now-dry seabed, but we now know that the actual Yamato broke in two as she sank. As a result, this is a totally new Yamato, built from scratch.
- Somewhat obsessively, they even delve into one of the controversies caused by the 1974 original. When Dessler first arrives on-screen, he’s portrayed as Caucasian, which was too much anti-U.S. allegory for Japan to take at the time, so in subsequent episodes, he was made blue to smooth things over. In the Yamato 2199 remake, the creators go out of their way to explain that the Gamillans have a client race of white-skinned people that they colonized, who consider themselves part of the Empire, though not with full status. It’s not unlike the time Star Trek: DS9 bent over backward to deal with the famous “Klingon forehead problem.”
- One thing I love about the Space Battleship Yamato 2199 remakes is that they avoided what I call “Abramsification” of the series. While you might think I’m referring to J.J. Abrams’ tendency to add lens flares to every shot, I’m actually talking about his tradition of refusing to respect the specific limitations placed at the heart of every important technology in a sci-fi franchise. Whereas Star Trek imposed limits on what warp and transporter technology could do, Mr. Abrams wiped those away, introducing trans-warp beaming and teleportation to any point in the universe, anywhere. In Star Wars, a spaceship needs to make accurate calculations before making the jump to light-speed, which adds tension and drama. But no more! Now Han Solo can bring a ship out of Hyperspace inside a planet’s atmosphere if the plot calls for it.
Space Battleship Yamato 2199 was as close to a perfect remake as any fan could ever ask for or expect. But what about…
Space Battleship Yamato 2202
When the original Yamato 2199 remake arrived, I was overjoyed, feeling like a long-lost friend had come back from the dead, striding into the room to greet me after many years apart. I said to myself, “This is so great. It would be far too much to hope for a remake of the Comet Empire arc.” But that’s what we got, with Yamato 2202!
Space Battleship Yamato 2202 retells the second arc of the second season of the original. As in the original, the Earth receives a signal from an advanced being named Teresa from Planet Telezart. The Yamato asks for permission from the military to travel to Telezart to help Teresa, but are denied, so they do what any crew would do and steal the ship. After many adventures, they arrive at Telezart and meet Teresa, who is a higher being who has called the Yamato to her to help fix the various conflicts that trouble the universe.
I wrote a blog post about the sad passing of Teresa voice actress Sayaka Kanda. Read this post here.
As in Yamato 2199, many quality plot points were added that were not in the original. Teresa is elevated to a sort of godlike status, not unlike the progenitors from David Brin’s Uplift novels. The Gamilas have become allies of Earth, similar to the current U.S. relationship with Japan, but there’s a breakaway group who still want war. Additional female characters are added, namely Master Sergent Shiori Nagakura, who adds so much to the banter of space marine Hajime Saito (Sergent Knox), one of my favorite characters. Many deep and interesting themes are added, mostly in the backstory of how the Gatlantians came to exist and details about the great technology that humanity gained from Starsha.
What Didn’t Work
Was Space Battleship Yamato 2202 a nearly perfect remake, as its predecessor was? Sadly I have to say no. The issues I had with the series included…
- Length. This was one of the few times I felt a series could have worked with fewer episodes. What we wanted was a perfectly balanced remake like Empire Strikes Back, but we ended up with David Lynch’s overly long director’s cut of 1984’s Dune.
- There’s a love-hate relationship between fans and anime studios about CGI, especially with a classic show like Yamato. While the original series avoided making the series feel like a video game with overuse of CGI, Yamato 2202 showed somewhat less restraint.
- One of the joys of watching the original Comet Empire arc was seeing the legendary Andromeda on-screen, which is the successor ship to the Yamato, with awesome double-barrel Wave Motion Guns. In Yamato 2202, a core plot element is that humanity has developed the ability to mass-produce Andromeda ships, to the point that we have thousands on hand for fighting space battles. The end result was something like the 1998 American Godzilla film, which gave us 20,000 baby Godzillas running around New York City, far less awesome and uplifting than a story that involved fewer mighty battleships and more drama.
They Forgot the Most Important Story Element
Yup! When your girl discovers your corpse floating in space and resuscitates you using her own blood, and with her last remaining energy, she destroys the Comet Empire super-dreadnought and saves the Earth from destruction… Well, your girl is the best.
– Teresa & Daisuke Shima pic.twitter.com/VsdwfYAudN
— Bat Guano (@BatGuano6) December 15, 2020
The other gripe I have with Space Battleship Yamato 2202 is that they “forgot” the most important story element, the love between Teresa/Trelana and Daisuke Shima/Mark Venture. It was hugely uplifting to my young self to see such a deep and satisfying love story in animated form, but it was omitted from Yamato 2202 completely. Sigh.
I re-watched Saraba Yamato, the darkest anime film from the golden age of anime. Read my post about it here!
That Time Speed Racer Killed Star Blazers
If you’re an old, cynical fan like me, you may know that Star Blazers eventually got a third season, known as the Bolar Wars. I know nothing about this arc because all the voices fans had come to love from the first two seasons had been tossed out and replaced with new voices, which was not something I was going to accept as a fan at the time. I learned much later that the man responsible for this was none other than Speed Racer. Well, Speed Racer voice actor (and animation producer) Peter Fernandez.
As he explained it at New York Comic-Con in 2008, the popularity of the first two seasons caused the production company Claster Television (who would later make bank on the Transformers) to hire him to produce the third season of Star Blazers. Contact with the original voice actors hadn’t been maintained, so he re-cast all the roles, including himself as Mark Venture/Daisuke Shima and Connie Orr, the voice of Trixie from Speed Racer (and Rudolph from the stop-motion Rudolph Christmas special), as Nova. So if you happen to be an old fan like me who’s salty at having your favorite anime’s voices all change suddenly, now you know who to blame. (You can watch the entire series on YouTube if you want to compare the voices.)
The Future of Space Battleship Yamato?
Happily, more Space Battleship Yamato is coming! Whether it’s a proper remake of the Bolar Wars arc of the original, or something fresh and new, we don’t know. We only know that the name will be Space Battleship Yamato 2205.
Thanks for reading my thoughts on Space Battleship Yamato 2202. Tell me what you thought in the comments!