Friday, July 19, 2013

What I'm watching (In Three parts); Space Battleship Yamato 2199

Ok first things first; if you watched Cartoons in the late 70s and early 80s the following clip may well make you giggle like a kid again.

Yes that's right, they remade Battleship Yamato, aka Starblazers to us English speakers and boy is it pretty. I'm not normally one for reviewing or talking about Anime but a trip to Tokyo kinda does things to you and I have been consuming it a lot of late. (probably for the first time in ten or so years) So whilst there I discovered that Yamato was being remade and released in cinemas as a series of movies that would then be broken up into episodes for DVD/TV release. Instantly hit by the nostalgia stick I returned home to track down this new series. (as well as several others that I may or may not talk about)

For those who are not familiar, Space Battleship Yamato is probably the seminal work of late 20th century Japanese animation. The 1974 series marked that medium's shift towards a newer visual style and methods of storytelling. The series is also one of the pillars of the Space Opera genre, predating Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica by several years and possessing many passing similarities to those two works. (Plus we know Lucas was looking East when putting Star Wars together, the homage to Kurasawa's "The hidden fortress" is well known) Many of the elements Yamato included have become standards in Space Opera on both sides of the Pacific.

Yamato 2199 is a reboot/remake of the original series, all new modern animation and characters to bring the tale of the Battleship Yamato into the 21st century. The basic story remains the same as the original's first series; in the year 2191 earth has contact with an alien race for the first time. Unfortunately that race is the Imperious Gamilias (Gamalons in the west) who attempt to wage a war of conquest against Earth. After earth manages in turning the initial invasion back at Mars the Gamilias opt to instead bombard the earth with radioactive meteorites from a base on Pluto; the human fleet is depleted and no match for the Gamilias superior technology. Humanity is forced underground as the surface is devastated but that is only a temporary solution as the radiation slowly begins to creep into the underground cities. A ray of hope comes in the form of a communication from another alien race from the planet Iskander in the small Magellanic cloud, they offer humanity the schematics to build a faster than light ship and technology that can clean the devastated earth. However the technology to cure the earth needs to be collected from Iskander, so humanity places all of its efforts to build a faster than light starship that can pick up the life saving tech. That ship is the Yamato, and it's crew are charged with the long journey and have one year to complete it before the radiation will render humanity extinct.

It's a hell of a story, and the tension is increased by the traditional "count" to humanity's extinction at the end of each episode. (something they did in the 1974 series as well) The main cast is mostly unchanged but with a whole bunch of new secondary characters and some wonderful character writing. Unlike the original there is more than one (!) female character; Yuki Mori is also a little more than the Kodai's love interest as well! The new series also treats Kodai (Wildstar in English) very well, able to make him the young inexperienced officer without making him a jerk or shallow bad boy which is common with such characters in modern Anime. Secondary characters are numerous and almost all are given just that tiny amount of depth to prevent them from being cut-outs. The plot is also a little more complex, with the Gamilias being given a few extra dimensions as well as a side plot centered around the intrigues within their empire.
In a very interesting addition is the gender swap of of the fighter pilots Akira Yamamoto, male originally he is now a she in a very Starbuck from BSG way. The meta recasting of this character is quite brilliant and I suspect down to the involvement of Hideaki Anno (the guy behind Neon Genesis Evangelion) in the project. Anno has no formal role in Yamato 2199, but did direct the new title sequence (as seen above) and has always listed Yamato as his favorite anime series. The clever twist with Akira is in the character appearance and name.

Now dear reader, what other Anime character does she look like? A hint? The Kanji for "Akira" can also be pronounced "Rei".
The Japanese penchant for wordplay makes me wish I was better at it...
Overall its a fantastic retelling of a classic series, I think I have described it to my housemates as crack in animated form especially since the series isn't finished yet! Currently it is available on DVD from Japan, some of it on the youtubes and will be released in the west as Starblazers2199 later this year.
What I will be doing is also writing about the other two Yamato related media I consumed recently after running out (!) of the new series. First will be the 2010 live action version that I just watched on youtube and then a rewatch of the original series. (Thanks to Youtube!)