Review for Star Blazers: Space Battleship Yamato 2199 - Complete Series
From one space opera to another! Normally I like a little variety in my review discs, but at this point in the lockdown, as the review discs continue to dry up, beggars can’t be choosers. So I go from the comparatively disappointing Heroic Age to this, Star Blazers – Space Battleship Yamato 2199, risking genre fatigue in the process. Then again, Space Battleship Yamato has pedigree and longevity that the original Heroic Age project didn’t have, while Manga Entertainment have previous with this franchise too, having released the 2010 live action film seven years ago. The franchise is older even than that, dating back to the first TV series from 1974, which itself spun off sequel series and animated films well into the nineteen eighties. The franchise took one hell of a hiatus though, not coming back into the limelight until that live action movie, and maybe that was the impetus behind this modern day anime remake. The 2199 TV series was made in 2012, and Manga are releasing it in its entirety, and five years later it spun-off the 2202 sequel, again getting a release from Manga this year, albeit in two halves. I guess I have space opera check discs stretching into the future too.
It’s 2199 and the world is coming to an end. The alien Gamilans came without warning and laid waste to the surface of the Earth. Mankind isn’t going out without a fight though, and the outmatched Earth fleet battles overwhelming odds against vastly superior forces. You wouldn’t think that it’s a resource to spend rashly, but Earth commits the entirety of the 1st Fleet in a battle near the Gamilan base established on Pluto. It’s a rout, but it’s all in aid of a rescue mission on Mars. A beautiful alien woman has arrived with a message from the distant world of Iscandar. The woman doesn’t survive but the message does; an invitation to a world hundreds of thousands of light years distant in another galaxy and the promise of a means to heal the Earth.
The captain of the sole ship to survive the battle of Pluto, Juzo Okita is ordered to put together a crew for the Earth’s most advanced space ship, which given that little piece of Iscandar technology will become the Earth’s first starship. The first person he recruits is Susumu Kodai as the ship’s tactical officer. Kodai’s big brother commanded a ship in the 1st Fleet, and Okita ordered him to his death, so it doesn’t bode well for this command structure. But the Yamato’s crew are all survivors, and if they don’t succeed in this mission, in less than a year, the human race will be extinct.
26 episodes of Star Blazers - Space Battleship Yamato 2199 are presented across 4 Blu-rays from Manga Entertainment.
1. Messenger of Iscander
2. Toward a Sea of Stars
3. Escape from the Jupiter Sphere
4. Gravestone on a Frozen Field
5. The Trap on All Sides
6. The Sun Sets of Pluto
7. Farewell to the Solar System
8. Wish Upon a Star
9. Clockwork Prisoners
10. Graveyard of the Universe
11. A World I Once Saw
12. What Lies Beyond
13. The Wolf From Another Dimension
14. The Whisper of the Witch
15. Point of No Return
16. A Choice For the Future
17. Out of the Forest of Memory
18. Over the Black Light
19. They’re Coming!
20. Under a Rainbow Sun
21. Prison Planet 17
22. The Planet That We Head For
23. One Man’s War
24. The Distant Promised Land
25. The Forever War
26. Memories of the Blue Planet
Star Blazers: Space Battleship Yamato 2199 gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer, and it’s up to Funimation’s usual standards. The image is clear and sharp, colour fidelity is excellent, detail levels are impressive, and the animation is smooth with no signs of compression or aliasing. However, digital banding is apparent in certain scenes, but given the space opera genre, and the plethora of dark scenes with bright light sources, the banding could have been a lot more prevalent than it is. Star Blazers is a fantastic anime. You get the impression from the character and ship designs that this is very much the seventies original, updated for the modern age with cutting edge effects, and dynamic direction, and with the vision of space adequately reflecting 40 years of advances in astronomy. Feature films don’t look this good.
You have the choice between Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround English, and 2.0 Stereo Japanese with subtitles and signs locked during playback. It’s a quality production, with the requisite investment in sci-fi effects, bangs and whistles. The music too really suits the space opera genre, while the show gets a host of splendid theme songs (they aren’t lyric subtitled though). I went with, and was very happy with the Japanese version of the show. Let’s face it, any show where Norio Wakamoto voices a character has to be watched in the original language (or in Japanese if he’s dubbing a Hollywood production).
The discs boot to animated menus.
Discs 1 and 3 autoplay trailers for Funimation Now.
Disc 2 has a featurette on it, The Newest Frontier: Star Blazers: Space Battleship Yamato 2199, where Funimation staff and voice cast out themselves as fans of the show. This lasts 18:14.
There is an audio commentary on episode 9 with Sarah Wiedenheft (Misaki), Phil Parsons (Sanada), Sonny Strait (Analyzer), and Brandon McInnes (Alter).
You also get 9:38 of Promo Videos.
Disc 3 has an audio commentary on episode 16 with ADR Director Jerry Jewell, and Mikaela Krantz (Niimi), Ricco Fajardo (Shima), and Justin Cook (Ito).
Disc 4 has a handful of featurettes.
The Newest Frontier Continued: Star Blazers: Space Battleship Yamato 2199 lasts 18:58.
Illustrating Space Battleship Yamato lasts 1:38.
There is 5:55 worth of Promo Videos.
Finally you get the two textless openings (the endings are just scrolls against recaps of the episode just gone), and as there are no lyric subtitles, finally a textless credit sequence on a Funimation Blu-ray truly is textless.
I went into this with admittedly low expectations. Re-imaginings of classic stories can go either way, and while I had recently been watching the brilliant Parasyte – The Maxim, for some reason I was thinking of Guyver: The Bioboosted Armour when I started with Star Blazers. On top of that, I had recently been reviewing Heroic Age, another space opera which had failed to deliver. I needn’t have worried. Star Blazers: Space Battleship Yamato 2199 is a fantastic show, one of the best I have seen this year, and worthy of being on every shelf. You might want to give it a try even if you don’t like anime.
Unlike that Guyver remake, which felt like the original OVA but only occasionally reminding you that twenty years had passed, Star Blazers is a genuine update of a classic story (although I have to admit that I haven’t seen the original). In terms of character design, in terms of music, and in terms of the space ship designs, this very much has the seventies feel to it, but the animation is cutting edge, and when it comes to the story it is very much up to date, and even with the characterisations, there’s only the occasional reminder of a bygone era in how they behave. Really, we are in Battlestar Galactica territory here.
The similarities are obvious when it comes to the story, although these heroes know where Earth is, and are on a galactic odyssey to save the world, rather than find a new one. But they are on their own out there, exploring an unfamiliar universe, and the journey does take its toll. More importantly, if the original Star Blazers was Glen Larson’s Battlestar Galactica, then this Star Blazers remake in turn owes much to Ron Moore’s reimagining of BSG from the early 2000s. It’s gritty, it’s nuanced, and it’s dramatic, and it is absolutely compelling. How I was able to space the episodes out while reviewing it is a head scratcher, as I wanted to one-episode-more my way through the story in just one sitting.
When the show begins, the war against the Gamilans has been fought for eight years, and the aliens outclass the humans at every turn. Earth has been laid to waste by directed meteorite weapons, the blue planet turned a fiery red, and extinction is imminent within the year. But a message from beyond our galaxy has been received, offering the chance to restore the Earth. But to receive the technology, humans will have to travel almost 200,000 light years to the Greater Magellanic Cloud, the nearest galaxy to the Milky Way. But Iscandar has sent the means to create a faster than light drive.
And so the Space Battleship Yamato sets forth on this epic journey, dogged by the Gamilans all the way, with only this alien technology, and their own determination and ingenuity to keep them alive. With Earth so badly damaged, it’s clear that the crew of the ship has plenty of emotional baggage with them. The show’s protagonist, Kodai, the ship’s tactical officer is on the ship in place of his brother, who died in the last battle before the Yamato’s launch, and practically everyone hates the Gamilans for similar reasons. It comes as quite the shock when they see their first Gamilan.
This is one area where the show really excels for the most part. The way the story develops; there are plenty of secrets under the surface, and there are so many twists and revelations that you do stay hooked right to the end. It also helps that we really get to explore the Gamilan society, and learn that they are not all of a piece. They have a structured society built on class, an elite race leading conquered species that they consider second class citizens. One of the reasons that they try to destroy humanity is because they didn’t surrender and become part of the Gamilan Empire. This tension in Gamilan society also plays heavily into how the story develops. I say the show excels for the most part. There’s one revelation around three episodes from the end that blew my mind, and I said to myself that this is the perfect show; it’s a ten out of ten for sure. But then Star Blazers pushed it a little too far and kept on twisting the plot, and for me, it over-egged the pudding by the final episode; but it’s a small disappointment.
Another thing that I really appreciate about the show is the action. There are plenty of space battles to be had in the show, but rather than the Gundam approach of just firing everything at each other until someone explodes, Star Blazers’ battles employ strategy and tactics, There’s thought to the space fight sequences here, and visually they are always imaginative and interesting.
When it comes to action, drama, sci-fi, and even a little bit of comedy and romance, Star Blazers has it all. The episodes are perfectly paced, and make for compulsive viewing. The story has been updated in a wonderful way, making the characters more interesting, the story more involving, and coincidentally using the latest scientific knowledge (back in 2012). When going past Pluto, the Yamato also detects two of Pluto’s satellites, Charon and Nix. Once in a while though, a little seventies sneaks through, particularly the cute robot Analyzer, and also the way Captain Okita appears on the bridge during a crisis situation, his captain’s chair lifted into place by an elevator, ready for him to issue orders; also the comedy doctor is always drunk. More of an annoying seventies character trait is the captain’s unfailing rightness, which is more akin to Lorne Greene’s Adama rather than Edward James Olmos’.
After the dismal Heroic Age, I was ready to give up on the idea of anime Space Opera, but Star Blazers: Space Battleship Yamato 2199 has changed my mind. It’s brilliant. It’s one of the best shows I’ve seen this year, and I can’t wait to watch it again. I can’t however, as next on the review pile is Star Blazers: Space Battleship Yamato 2202 Part One! Yes, Manga are releasing the sequel as well. I’m going to give it a little while for the glee I’ve gained from the first series to wear off, and my cynicism to be restored. After all, we all know how disappointing sequels can be...