Yamato, the ancient namesake of Japan. It seems as if great renewal is the primary theme throughout the world at this particular time. Not only has Japan’s political power just recently shifted in a most dramatic fashion, but the public’s love of all things Uchu Senkan Yamato is quickly reaching phoenix levels in no small manner. All across the nets have been blurbs and shouts involving the long-awaited live action opus, starring none other than SMAP’s Takuya Kimura in the role of Susumu Kodai, as well as a bold looking new animated feature (Fukkatsu-hen), set for release this December.
The significance? When the series was brought stateside via Westchester Films in the late 70s under the name, Star Blazers, the show was one incredible gateway drug, turning this quiet kid into a ticking timebomb of addiction. The thought of going a week until the next Saturday morning fix was frightening, to downright depressing for a first-grader. Imagine my reaction to the show’s storyline, and the shock I felt when (gasp!) characters died! Characters dying in a cartoon? ARE YOU KIDDING? Needless to say, this was akin to a great awakening. Shows like this weren’t screwing around. And the rest, is..well you know.
Now that a long standing legal battle over creative rights is over, it seems that a long delayed Yamato renaissance is finally coming to pass, with an entirely new generation who may have at least been children at the time of the original 1974-75 series’ run at the helm. Thankfully, this happens while several of the original key staff are still with us. Things being how they are today, the pervading feeling seems to be one of longing. Longing for a time where men were men, collective faith was paramount, and sacrifice was potentially necessary to defend honor. It is the quintessential Space Opera, merging science fiction, westerns, mysteries, WWII naval epics, and hearty drama, establishing a wholly new kind of anime saga. It’s probably safe to say that next to the massive contributions that Osamu Tezuka & Go Nagai gave to the worlds of anime/manga, there were fewer creations as influential as Uchu Senkan Yamato.
Creators Yoshinobu Nishizaki & Leiji Matsumoto probably had no real idea just how much their story would have become one of the true milestones of the medium, especially since the original run was deemed average to near-failure. But once college students began flocking to see the first feature film in 1977, there was a sign that the show had hit a potent cultural pressure point. Until then, the concept of otaku was nary a blip on anyone’s radar. Somehow, Yamato beat the odds and became a phenomenon much later than expected. And the reverberations of this delayed burst in love for the show can still be felt echoing today.
The concepts in this series alone have been borrowed almost wholesale for decades.
In many ways, the birth of what came to be the modern anime otaku owes a huge amount to Yamato‘s creative force. Take a look at the most famous example of “by otaku-for-otaku” creations, Superdimensional Fortress Macross, with it’s shipload of humans, bound together on a treacherously long journey away from home, sheltered by a refurbished battleship piloted by a mostly inexperienced crew with a sage father-figure for a captain as they are pursued by a ruthless alien force. This show was a fun & memorable ode to many creations, most cosmetically sharing DNA with Yamato as well as Tomino’s original Kido Senshi Gundam series. The requisite anime love triangle (an element that has since become the object of parody), while used in other creations to be fair, was an impresson-making part of Yamato which may seem quaint by modern standards, has a simple power that has influenced many a tv epic. Near everything from mechanical concepts, plot twists, and yes even character deaths have been influenced by this. And it’s baffling to imagine anime space opera, or even anime drama without it. It’s also no accident considering that the supervising animation director of both Yamato & Macross was none other than pioneer, Noboru Ishiguro, who’s distinct workmanship is a hallmark of many animated classics of the early era. Even cooler still, storyboard duties went in no small part to none other than Yoshiyuki Tomino himself! The nucleus of the modern anime fandom was truly a family affair.
If one needs more convincing, Uchu Senkan Yamato is also the granddaddy of narrative paradox borne out of fan wish fulfillment. We’re talking a show so beloved, with so much fan weight behind it, the creators retold its finale multiple times. Once its popularity gained steam, two additional series were produced as well as four more feature films (the second of which, 1978’s Farewell Yamato, fell out of canon due to its incredibly grim finale-still a MUST-see imho). So those having issues with a certain Rebuild might want to do some digging. Whatever the case, this was something rampant fans weren’t so privy to letting go of so quickly. And a loving hug they received in return as the films in many ways were the first and last of the theatrical anime epics, with lengths reaching well past the two hour mark. Even if fans saw the demise of many favorite characters in varying ways from film to film, it remained potent throughout, which is a testament to the care given to these movie events. Speaking of which, when was the last time you heard, or even felt the word “event” next to an anime feature film?
So what does this mean in the high-cell-count, sphere of Akiba-kei car-washing, and fujiyoshi dry-cleaning?
Simply, it means that there is in fact a deep-rooted bloodline of love for expansive science fiction in the animeverse. As narrow as things have felt over the last few years, there has always been a fondness for space opera. And as experienced this summer via the success of JJ Abrams’ feature film reinvention of Roddenberry’s classic Trek series, we’ve reached a time where creature comforts are at odds with a growing will to to dream further. If a certain Haruhi’s longing was any kind of indication, it is that the cave has indeed become too confining for some. A need to explore the outer fringe has always been a high-point for many fans of fantasy/science-fiction/horror. And there’s always room for the expansion of famous works, as long as the sincerity of the original is retained. Many fans are out there, just hoping, waiting for the next great adventure. Count me amongst them. With multiple generations of anime fans now in the mix, it’s important to know your roots. And the history lessons born from the legacy of this series are numerous, revealing, and are the subject of many a thoughtful discussion. It’s an entity with a lot more on its mind than the wishes of the few, asking the viewers to face great obstacles, and grow from the smoke & rubble.
Which is hopefully what Bridging The Gap will be all about.
So perhaps there was no better time to revisit the legend of the iconic space battleship and its crew. It is a series mourning the tragedies of war, sharing reminders left by ghosts of the past, and offering an enduring message of hope. Universal, and often very Japanese values of love and sacrifice are a strong component in Yamato, and those values have served as a reservoir from which many anime directors and artists since have attempted to tap. It stands as a reminder of the things that an oncoming influx of technology should never be able to snuff out.
Of course, while no Matsumoto involvement in the new animation makes me sad, I’m willing to give Nishizaki a chance with this being his final work. As for my feelings on the live-action project? While I am by no means a big fan of director, Takashi Yamazaki, I can’t imagine what it’ll be like come opening weekend. That thing’s going to be a beast.