By Ed Sum
Long time fans of the animated television series Space Battleship Yamato will be familiar with both versions, the english dub (Star Blazers) and the Japanese original. When seen side-by-side, the differences can be found. And the script revisions helped make this saga successful for Western audiences. The films that followed afterwards began as a compressed versions of the series until Yamato: New Voyage (1979) was made.
As a space opera, the drama between various characters made this series a compelling watch. To see them lose loved ones to war and face insurmountable challenges made for a very different type of 70’s cartoon. A few sacrifices were even made along the way for those who have seen the original Japanese version. Not many animations from that decade had internal monologues to tell viewers what each character was thinking of. Even the next imported saga, which was dubbed Robotech, took a few cues from this series. Without the seminal flagship, Macross wouldn’t have been what it is today. Even Irresponsible Captain Tylor takes on a few passing characteristics when it concerns two sake guzzling physicians who have a pet cat (by the second series).
Trying to compress a complete season into a live action film is not easy. And Space Battleship Yamato (2010) succeeds at certain levels. The interpersonal drama viewers fondly remember is brought to life. And the screenplay does a good enough job to define the crew of the Yamato as honourable. Even the main character of Kodai (Takuya Kimura) learns virtue, away from his once angry ways. He was motivated to board the Yamato (Argo) to avenge his fallen brother, but by the end of both the live-action film and animated series, he learns the meaning of standing tall from a humanitarian’s perspective.
This tale realizes the nature of the beast, namely that of the human condition to survive against all odds, just like the historical ship of yore. No matter what the sentiments were in regards to World War II, this ship did represent more than just a nation, but also an indomitable spirit. She stood vigilant against human aggression, a concept that some people may say is a necessary evil if a species is to survive. And that’s all some viewers will need to know when watching the movie or television series time and time again.
Although some changes were made to the live-action product, like making Doctor Sado, female than male, hasn’t this been done before like in the reinvisioned Battlestar Galactica? Analyzer/IQ9 gets a makeover too. These adjustments are just fine. Only those viewers in the know will notice. While Kodai is more zealous than his animated counterpart, this version is more like that of a raw recruit who learns what duty and honour means. Instead of exploring the military tradition, what he looks at is with the human condition. This character is less introspective than his animated counterpart. Actor Tsutomu Yamazaki nails the role of Captain Okita and Takuya Kimura does a respectable job of updating Kodai for a new generation.
Long time viewers of SF may want to say Yamato set the bar for future science-fiction products to come. Not many products truly deserve to be called a space opera. The orchestral tones provide raw depth and emotion with its tenors, to say that in space the only chord struck is with knowing just how lonely any civilization, let alone any human, must feel. Kodai has no family; they were lost to war. The isolation he must be feeling is only made worse when the crew of the Yamato finally leave Earth’s solar system. With no life-line, all the crew has to keep them safe is with each other. And that’s where Kodai learns his life lessons. He can’t face the odds alone. He faces them with his new family, the crew he commands, and with the allies he makes along the way. That’s where the series Yamato succeeds.
Even the movie recognizes that. Kodai realizes that resilience is what will keep the human species going. The best hope is in honouring what he did to bring life to everyone he loved. And his legacy, as hinted at after the end title sequence, suggests that will carry on to the next generation as well.
3½ Stars out of 5