As a card-carrying old-school anime fan, sometimes I like to ignore my usual backlog of shows from the current season and delve into series or films from the past. Recently I obtained a collection of classic Space Battleship Yamato episodes and films and realized I’d never properly watched the 1978 Saraba Yamato film — which got the rather odd Western title of Arriverderci Yamato. Let’s take a trip down memory lane and revisit the pinnacle drama during anime’s Golden Age!
(Note: this is a blog post about a dark and dramatic film in which major characters die. Don’t read if you want to avoid spoilers.)
The Story of Space Battleship Yamato
While I love watching stories about high school kids who are obsessing about the upcoming school culture festival events or trying to decide which girl to confess their feelings to, the thing that really attracted me to anime was that it had the freedom to tell huge stories about whole planets whose destiny hung in the balance. As with the Macross: Do You Remember Love? film, Space Battleship Yamato absolutely delighted me with its incredibly dramatic story and well-written characters, who were usually in peril of dying in every episode.
The year is 2199, and Earth is under attack by the evil Gamilas Empire (Gamilons in the English Star Blazers release), who are dropping radiation bombs that will kill all human life within a year. But wait! A benevolent alien named Starsha has reached out to us, offering technology that can heal the Earth, if only the Yamato can make the 186,000 light-year journey there and get back within the year.
Saraba Yamato takes place three years later in the year 2202. Earth is at peace, and the Yamato is about to be mothballed in favor of the brand new Andromeda class battleships. Suddenly, a transmission is received! A being named Teresa of Telezart (Trelena in the English version) is asking for help. The crew of the Yamato do what any highly disciplined military force would do and steal the ship to go save Teresa and learn the secret of the mysterious White Comet that’s hurling through space directly for Earth. While this is the same story as the later second season of Yamato (which came after the Saraba Yamato film, greatly expanding on the plot), this is a Zeta Gundam-level dark film that kills off most of the characters. Don’t believe me?
After a traumatic event like a terrible war, it’s natural for a society to deal with it in various ways, including expressing it through the arts. America got past the Vietnam War through films like Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket, and Japan did the same for World War II through fictional works like Yamato. The anime is basically one giant allegory about the War in the Pacific, with the entire Earth receiving relentless radiation bombs similar to the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Fortunately the great battleship Yamato of Japan — “Great Island” in Star Blazers — is ready to head off to outer space, leaving Mother Earth to save the human race… OUR STAR BLAZERS.
Uh, sorry, couldn’t help it.
While I cut my teeth on the 1974 original as Star Blazers back in the day, the Iscandar Arc got an almost perfect remake in the form of Space Battleship Yamato 2199, and a very good remake of the Comet Empire story with Space Battleship 2202. Unless you’re a die-hard fan of classic anime, you’re probably better off watching these two excellent series. Both of the remakes are made with lots of loving care by people who truly loved the original, and both expand on the story of the original in (usually) positive ways.
It’s one reason I came to Japan to found a hentai empire. pic.twitter.com/OzNolW2U4Q
— Peter Payne (@JListPeter) November 24, 2021
My Hobby: Watching Classic Anime in 1080p
It’s one thing to revisit the classic anime of our youth. It’s even better when we can do this in vibrant 1080p HD resolution on a large OLED TV, so that every hair and spec of dust can be easily seen on screen. Just look at the scratches and fingerprints visible on the above clip! You can almost smell the paint on the cels.
Imagine being a young fan in 1979, when the most engaging animation on TV was Johnny Quest. Then along comes #StarBlazers with melodramatic scenes like this involving characters I cared about. Things would never be the same for me.#SpaceBattleshipYamato #宇宙戦艦ヤマト pic.twitter.com/puo4Ju1H4T
— Peter Payne (@JListPeter) November 24, 2021
I’m Against Unlicensed Distribution of Anime, But…
I love the anime industry, and love my job as an anime blogger writing posts that hopefully connect fans with amazing series they might otherwise miss, because they’re not generating the kind of buzz that Demon Slayer or Sword Art Online inevitably do. And I always encourage fans to financially support the creation of the anime they love, by buying licensed merchandise and Blu-rays and supporting streaming platforms. That said, there are times when it’s probably reasonable for fans to consider obtaining anime through unlicensed means. These might include:
- When a show is only released to the West in censored form, or when Easter Eggs like the bonus fanservice episode of Ladies Versus Butlers are ignored in Western releases.
- When a show “falls off the pop culture map” and is totally unavailable through any legal means.
- When a show has become a classic but isn’t popular enough to receive a remastered release in the West, I love it when dedicated fansubbers make a high-quality version available to posterity for free, like the xPearse group has done for the Space Battleship Yamato series and films, as well as other otherwise forgotten shows from the 70s and 80s.
While anime piracy is “bad” and no one should do it, I do appreciate that fans have a lot of leverage over companies like Aniplex/Funimation/Crunchyroll (which is to say Sony, since Sony has conquered the anime industry) in the event that they stop doing right by us, trying to force “Western standards” on the anime that we love or otherwise abuse our loyalty as fans.
Sadly this year saw the passing of voice of Nova Amy Howard Wilson. Read my blog post about her here!
Space Battleship Yamato Had a Huge Influence on Sci-Fi
I’m a huge fan of the Dune novels by Frank Herbert and belong to a Facebook group filled with similarly obsessive people. One point of discussion that’s often brought up is how many elements from Star Wars were inspired by Dune… something that I don’t actually agree with. Other than featuring a desert planet and a galaxy-spanning empire, and both being different approaches to Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces story structure, they don’t feel like similar stories at all.
Star Wars, on the other hand, does feel quite “inspired” by Space Battleship Yamato, even though George Lucas has never acknowledged this to my knowledge. Looking at the obvious similarity of R2-D2 to Analyzer/IQ-9, the prominence of WWII-style dogfighting action, and a fleeing princess (Starsha’s sister Yurisha) who’s carrying plans for a technology powerful enough to destroy planets, makes me wonder.
Oh, and Force Ghosts. I forgot about those. Maybe George Lucas has been a secret weeb all this time?
Thanks for reading this blog post on the glory that is the Saraba Yamato film. Why do you love the series? Tell us below, or on Twitter!
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