Growing up in Australia in the 1980s, I was exposed to a number of Japanese anime series that had been dubbed to English. I found these shows extraordinary – compared to the Western animation I was otherwise watching – as they tended to be highly episodic and tell and ongoing stories with, frankly, a more “adult” feeling. I was a pretty thoughtful and deep kid and if it was a choice between some goofy cartoon character doing something dumb that just didn’t matter, or a bunch of fighter jocks in a space opera, fighting and often dying for their cause, I was with the latter all the way.
The two “big ones” of my youth were Star Blazers (based on Space Battleship Yamato), and Robotech (based on three different anime, but the one I cared about was Super Dimension Fortress Macross).
Over the years these series – and more in the same vein, such as Astro Boy, G-Force, and Voltron – have never really left me. I’ve been delighted to buy some of them on disc to re-watch over the years. Each time evoking the same good feelings as those times in the 1980s where I’d go downstairs to our second lounge room and watch them, alone, totally and utterly absorbed in the storylines.
Although you couldn’t say I have my finger on the pulse when it comes to most anime these days, I heard early on when a remake was scheduled for Space Battleship Yamato. Naturally I was intrigued, but I also had a worried feeling that they might mess it up and maybe it was best left alone.
Slowly the discs started becoming available from Japan at astronomical prices and obviously not dubbed into English either. Sidenote: Unlike a lot of anime ‘snobs’, I quite happily watch anime in English if it’s available. My theory being that it’s a visual medium you’re meant to be watching in your native language – not reading the bottom of the screen and missing every other frame of the show.
Even when the discs started becoming available from Western sources, at reasonable prices and with an English dub (and even a slight re-naming to Star Blazers: Space Battleship Yamato 2199), I was hesitant. I knew the story. It was a cherished part of my childhood. Did I need a re-make? And still there was the underlying “fear” that can’t be understated of simply, have they messed it up?
But earlier this year I put all of that aside and finally took the plunge. I bought the ‘Part 1’ and ‘Part 2’ sets that contain the complete 26 episodes and sat down to watch it with a totally open mind.
I need not have worried in the slightest. The first thing I noticed was that the look and feel of the series was similar to the original. Almost as quickly I detected that the soundtrack was similar, if not the exact same. That thrilled me a lot. Music is very evocative for me (and I daresay a lot of people), and to have similar imagery and music going on… I was already feeling right at home with the series just a few minutes in. And I suppose that’s the whole reason they did it this way.
Episodes passed. Alienating, this was not. It felt like a straight lift from the original series in many ways. Small Easter eggs, of a sort, were dropped here and there. Things we never saw, but heard about, in the original series were shown to us. Nice moments that made this feel like it could be the original series if they had the time and budget to do everything they wanted. So in other words, a non-threatening, comfortable landscape for this old fan to dip his toes back into. Even the addition of some new characters (particularly females to help diversify the crew a little more from the original series), felt entirely natural. I instantly liked Kaoru Niimi, and I thought Akira Yamamoto was neat.
Then things started to change gear a little. We were no longer following the old series in quite the same, dedicated way. Rather than toss my TV set out the window, I was actually OK with this. Some of the “new” storylines really intrigued me. One of them from about halfway through the season, Whisper of the Witch, felt extremely trippy and included moments that I’d expect to see in live-action Japanese ghost stories, especially with shadows flitting back and forth at great speed behind our heroes’ backs. The original series might have had the odd “weird moment”, but nothing like this.
Ultimately, the guts of the original series was still all there, even once it started breaking out into new storylines and concepts. I commented to my wife that this is actually one of the best reboots I’ve ever seen. It’s reverential to the original – extremely so in many ways – yet also manages to do a ton of new stuff as well… and none of it feels alienating or disjointed. The series remains what it always was – a positive story, full of hope. No matter what situations our heroes encounter, they maintain a broad sense that they will succeed in their mission. It’s so refreshing, given the darker side of many stories these days. And don’t get me wrong when I say that – I love a bit of melancholia, I love a bit of dystopia. But sometimes you just need something more like this. Maybe especially so in a year like 2020?
If you are a fan of the original and are worried, as I was, that a reboot just wouldn’t cut it… have no fear at all. And if you’re someone who has never seen Star Blazers or Space Battleship Yamato, I highly recommend it. So long as space opera is your thing, you really can’t go wrong with this. It makes me want to go back and watch the original now. And maybe one day I will. I never tire of the story.