Tag Archives: Anime Remakes

Through Older Lenses: Yamato 2199 Episodes 1-3 – The Long Journey..And Then Some.

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After nearly a year of theatrical releases (which are continuing as of this date), as well as sell-out launches on home media, Yutaka Izibuchi’s big budget update of Uchu Senkan Yamato has finally come to broadcast screens via MBS(Mainichi Broadcasting System). A penultimate evergreen of televised and theatrical anime, the classic space epic has seen itself celebrated and reinvented more than once before, but never with such grandeur, and such a sense of momentum this side of the original movie releases that began back in the summer of 1977. It’s safe to say that I have been following to the best of my ability, the parade and anticipation of this particular run as the original series remains centrally important to my own interest in anime as a medium, and as a lover of classical science fiction. Not unlike globally acclaimed phenomena such as Lord Of The Rings, or even Star Wars, the tale of Yamato’s great gamble to save the blue Earth is possibly Japan’s most universal, and even perhaps most personal legend brought to cel animation. So it goes without saying that in this era of a jazzed-up Star Trek, a few words would inevitably have to be shared about this update.

So what I propose, is not a simple episodic review column. But more like an overview of episode clusters, where this new legend can be seen with fresher eyes, without the ever present spectre of the original series hovering over. We’ll be giving impressions on the series in the format in which they were shown to audiences in Japanese theatres. As an enduring lover of the original, it feels only appropo that we peer into this alternate telling of the search for Iscandar as one would look at how a modern artist would pay tribute/respond to a legendary painter, or even musician. With openness to new voices, and a reverence for what the current world has to offer a familiar mythology. The original Yoshinobu Nishizaki/Leiji Matsumoto saga will always be, but Yamato:2199 must stand on its very own, and to that, let us commence.

The last time I had written a little on the series, it’s no exaggeration to say that I was more overcome by the sheer magnitude of the event. It’s fair to say that for me, it was something of an oasis to consider the return of Captain Okita, and his gallant crew to the animated world. So what I hope to do, is to do away with mere nostalgia clouding my sight, and just call it as a singular new event all its own.

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For those unfamiliar, Yamato weaves the saga of an ongoing mission by a select number of brave souls tasked with taking a once lost battleship deep into space in hopes of saving Earth from relentless radiation attacks by the fearsome alien force known only as Gamilas. Their only lead, an alien transmission, offering plans for a device capable of cleaning the planet’s surface. The only problems? Distance versus time. Roughly one hundred days remain before certain ahnilation, and the Gamilas armadas aren’t letting the intrepid crew of the Yamato have an easy time of seeking the planet, Iscandar. The place in which the humanity’s apparent salvation resides. It is in the determined spirit of one Captain Okita, and the fortitude of his diverse & largely youthful crew, that what remains of the human race must depend. But the journey is fraught with perils and unknowns. Worse yet, time is running out.

The story begins..

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Episode 1: Messenger From Iscandar

Opening at the Second Battle Of Mars, where we are thrust headlong into the conflict which gives us our first glimpse of the aging captain, his relationship with one Captain Mamoru Kodai, and the fate of the Yukikaze. The confidence in which this opener establishes itself is the kind of surehandedness that is often rare by anime TV standards, and deserves recognition, even if it seems on the surface as simple and atypical of an establishment scene. So much is employed here, that it’s very apparent that this project is looking to be remembered as a labor of love. The almost old-fashioned romance of naval conflict is paid tribute as the Gamiras advance takes its toll on the human forces, leading certain characters toward what seems to be an inevitable conclusion. Taking an almost cel-animation aim toward the CG makes for an interesting marriage of schools that leaves both good and not so good impressions. (which I’ll get to later) The drama of the sequence is only made more potent by knowing that the real purpose of this battle is in the name of a mission in order to retrieve a message from an alien emissary.

Young officer, Susumu Kodai, and his optimistic buddy Daisuke Shima are on the surface of Mars, awaiting first contact while unbeknownst to them, the UN Cosmo forces keep the enemy at bay above. Even as Kodai and Shima find themselves capable of merely retrieving the message, the female alien ambassador was unable to survive her ship’s descent from space. Compounding matters, is the revelation that Kodai is unaware that his elder brother , the captain of the Yukikaze, is on the verge of meeting with destiny. Lives and discoveries converge, and a mild glimmer of hope for a dying planet finally seems within reach. That is, if the younger Kodai can keep his composure toward longtime veteran, Okita regarding the fate of the Yukikaze. Instantly, we have a classic father/son conflict amidst this galaxy-spanning conflict, and we have a shining tribute to anime at its most romantic.

The initial episode has quite a deal to lay out for viewers, and for the most part it gels tremendously by weaving heavy animation detail with impeccable writing and direction. While perhaps not the kind of storytelling more current anime fans may be accustomed to, its pretty refreshing to experience an A to B story executed in such a deft manner. It’s all deceptively simplistic, and yet that’s something most appropriate for such a tale. With effective speed, we are given glimpses into the world, while offering up classic character archetypes and conflicts with equal ease. If anyone gets short shrift in this initial episode, it is perhaps the role of Yuki Mori, who is now of greater import in the chain of command. Turns out they resorted toward making her yet into yet another quasi-tsunderoid, which is kind of a shame. It’s a mild misstep that could be rectified in future installments, but it kind of stands out as a bit of a step-forward-step-back for a character that deserves a just a little more complexity.

In all, Messenger is a solidly executed pilot episode that dodges the many pratfalls that to this day dog most initial installments.

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Episode 2: Toward A Sea Of Stars..

Upon discovering that the Gamilas have been reconning the Earth for what seems to be the remains of a long-ago sunken battleship, it is not long before all eyes turn to the hulking Yamato as the one last possible savior for the once blue planet and its inhabitants. Meanwhile, on Pluto..military leaders of the Gamilas have their worries confirmed, and chart a course to destroy the newly dusted off and retrofitted Space Battleship before it even leaves the ground. Meanwhile, the mission begins as we learn that the deceased alien ambassador Starsha left with the humans, a message containing their offering of salvation lying 168,000 light years away, within the Large Magellanic Cloud–The planet, Iscandar. Another revelation is dropped upon us that Starsha had originally sent her sister, Yurisha a year prior in secret with plans for the Dimensional Wave Motion Engine, to be used within one specially fitted space cruiser, good enough to handle the difficult voyage ahead.

Thus, the long ballyhooes Izumo Plan suddenly transitions into..The Yamato Plan.

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Yes. Exposition heavy, and plot-obsession is on call for Sea Of Stars, which gives us an even better glance at who will become our respective crew members, and their positions with impressive brevity. There’s clearly so much to be told in this telling, that it becomes expected that things would be rushing toward the manning of the ship, and as such, we only spend so much time with even major characters at this point. Kodai & Shima are tapped as important personnel, while we get more of a clearer look at the diversity, and breadth of those who have loved ones staying behind. If there is any real trouble with this episode, it’s that it never gives enough temerity to how desperate the situation is on a more personal level. The crew just needs to assemble and get going, so we get often all-too-brief looks at family members who’s lives will be hanging in the balance. Worthy of note, we get our first real moments with Engineering Head, the old-fashioned Tokugawa, and Science Chief & Second In Command, Sanada (Who remains a favorite in the original,btw), and we do get another quiet moment between Kodai and Okita before things start intensifying again as the Gamilas attempt to stop the Yamato from beginning its mission.

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In summation for this one, there is simply so much foundation to lay out before launch. And that’s kind of amazing that it works at all.

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Episode 3: Escaping The Mars Sphere

After proving its mettle on the ground, the Yamato and her crew are quickly faced with staunch resistance by the Gamilas as they make their first attempts at warp speed, leading them into a trap. A trap called Jupiter.

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Shooting face first into pure business, action and heart..Mars Sphere is pretty much classic space opera of the first order. With the crew knowing full well that their gift from Iscandar must be used to its fullest potential, they are also mostly young and unsure of what to do with their newfound power. On one hand, we have the abiltity to achieve Faster Than Light travel, which can allow them to reach Iscandar in under (hopefully) one earth year. And on the other, which comes at the latter half of the episode, they also have in their grasp, a weapon of terrifying power. On top of all of this, we are given a brief look into the world of the Gamilas, and the reality that not everything in this conflict is as simple as rudimentary good vs. evil.

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It’s a pretty busy episode that eases nicely into an old school quest series format by offering up equal doses of action and exposition, topped with a great understanding of the sentiments that made the original so powerful. We finally see what the Yamato is truly capable of in more than one way, which offers up some more than welcome subtext as the cast fills out a few more new vital spaces in the crew. We are better introduced to Technology Department head, Niimi, who’s vital to this episodes expositional needs, doles out the science of FTL travel, while the clearly pilot-like Yamamoto is deferred to an accounting desk (in a half-clever setup for future episodes). We even finally get our first real meeting with the IQ-9 robotic unit most affectionately known as Analyzer, a plucky, often humanlike machine with a deep need to prove his worth on the ship. Once the Yamato completes their first jump, and the ship & crew finds themselves eyeballs deep in Gamilas territory, the series essentially slams the pedals with tension, and enough introspection on the crews part to make this more than an authentic nod to elder lovers of anime storytelling. (Strange how this can be seen as refreshing now, but it is.) Kudos also go to a series that takes the extra time to quiet moments such as Yuki honoring the lost, as other main characters consider the temerity of their mission as they gaze out onto the once vibrant blue planet.

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And while the initial three episodes of Yamato 2199 bring with them much to celebrate, there are small things here and there in which I hope are given additonal consideration. Primarily, when considering the state-of-the-art, the presentation can be seen as both a gift and curse. Mostly in the way that most modern anime produced with heavy CG and cel-shaded coloring, there is a high emphasis on fine details which wasn’t nearly as possible in the past. Mechanical and costume designs are nothing less than top notch. The flip side to this (of course), is a lack of painter’s grit. There is something we simply cannot achieve in the current state, which is a loving sense of the handmade. Something I feel is essential in creating a sense of human warmth to the more somber aspects of the story. As well-composed as this series is, it can be a little more clinical than preferred. I understand that this is merely me being nostalgic, but there is something deeply impactful about the handmade that is a massive part of Yamato’s enduring appeal. Do I believe it is still possible? Probably not yet. But it does feel as if cast and crew have been more than ready to dish out the best product imaginable with this opening trio.

The only other real gripes I have at the moment (of course-again), is in the new crew members. While it is definitely welcome to consider new and important roles on the ship being undertaken by women, it does reek of the times, and it never really figures out a way to write itself out of this. Izibuchi has been capable of creating believable female characters in positions of high responsibility before, but here it almost cannot override a sense of business obligation. And while Yamamoto’s role setup is an interesting one that could go into some positive places for the series, one cannot help but feel like it’s business as usual(IE-Mari & the cult of Pizza Hut/Lawsons) with these new characters. Thankfully, we have yet to see Analyzer’s less than flattering sides, so there is still a bit more worry regarding this. Even in the far future of 2199, certain acts should be considered criminal.
Ensign Harada had better watch out..

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Bridging The Gap Special: Yamato 2199 Bursts With Grandeur & Promise

 

This last weekend marked the 38th anniversary of the day Uchu Senkan Yamato launched onto Japanese TV screens, ushering in a new era for the anime medium. So with such a notable date glaring at me from that north star of my absurdly long fandom, it was with both a natural feeling of apprehension & unfettered excitement that I had been able to get a decent look at the first few installments of Yutaka Izibuchi’s all-star remake of the Yamato legend. This grand scale retelling of the seminal series has the distinction of Izibuchi(RahXephon, Patlabor), not only taking over reins of direction from Hideaki Anno (who started with some initial storyboard work), but Yamato 2199 also sports the work of Junichi Tamamori as lead Mechanical Designer, Nobuteru Yuki(X, Escaflowne) as Character Designer, and starring the voices of Daisuke Ono as Susumu Kodai, and Houko Kuwshima (Martian Successor Nadesico) as Yuki Mori. With a large scale Shochiku theatrical releases of episode bursts, followed by bilingual subbed Blu-ray months before a major TV debut, this is a project on a size that only the prestigious can experience.

And while so many projects come and go by way of massive ad-campaign, and internet hype, Yamato 2199 is in my estimation, the real deal. An event that lives up to every expectation thus far, offering up a faithful, and passionate return to one of anime’s greats. I won’t go too much into plot details as the story is pretty universal, and such heavily covered territory can be discussed elsewhere. But what I can say for now, is that the new series is an at-times lavish affair that is every bit as detailed in its trappings, as it is in its characters. In many ways, the Voyage To Iscandar has been given a denser, almost novel-like treatment, and is most effective when it offers more depth in places that the much lower-budgeted original found itself unable to. From the Battle Of Mars, to the launching of the legendary battleship, the treatment of all these famous moments is nothing short of Class-A.

 
Among some of the changes made to this rendition, while reflective of more to the minute tastes, rarely to never distracts from matters at this point in the tale. Substituting Dr.Sado’s ever cute cat, with a curvy nurse could so easily have been a bad sign, but Harada turns out to be a fine, thoughtful addition to the crew, as the roles of Science Officer Niimi, and the changing of Zero pilot, Yamamoto from man to woman. But most welcome for me is the upgrade of Yuki Mori, which offers her a more central role on the bridge, as well as a greater amount of complexity right out of the gate. She is clearly a more mysterious character this time around, and a nice change from the one-dimensional “Starbuck” facelift she received in the recent live-action adaptation.

 
The new design work is a smooth mixture of classic and contemporary, and is more than worth noting. Virtually everything from the underground cities of Earth, to the Gamilas Empire feels weighty enough for a feature film. From the earliest moments of the show, space battles, while in no way carrying the painterly feel of the classic series and films, has an often graceful amount of depth & detail that borders on obsessive. (Turn boosters on the side of each battle class ship!) And the costume changes offer up a more functional look than before. Particularly with the uniforms that hew closer to Nicolas Meyer’s more nautical concepts for his game-changing Star Trek II:The Wrath Of Khan. But perhaps the most impressive, is the design and interior of the Yamato itself, which is lovingly rendered with a sense of the tactile which is more often than not, severely not present in recent anime. Going above and beyond what is usually attainable with current CG-driven animation art, Yamato is so far one of the premier examples of how beautiful science fiction can look through the lens of anime art. (I will not go into just how impressive things get once they reach Jupiter-btw)

 
But most importantly, all of this comes in the service of retelling a story that is almost as important to the modern Japanese narrative as to animated television. Ostensibly an operatic rumination on the Pacific War by way of romantic space, the Yamato story begins with a sure-handed flow  that is unprecedented in today’s climate. The tale of Kodai, a young pilot, eager to understand the man responsible for the loss of his decorated older brother, as humanity makes one last gamble to save itself remains as potent as ever. From the first episodes, it’s pretty clear that no expense was spared in making the world and characters paramount. By the point where I left off, it was also quite apparent that this version of the tale is ready to take on a few new wrinkles that are bound to pleasantly surprise. Whichever way one comes into the universe Yoshinobu Nishizaki & Leiji Matsumoto created, I’m happy to state here that the legacy of Yamato seems to be in ideal hands. Anime lovers parched for something sincere and grand, prepare for a flood come a few months from now.

 
May Yamato live on..

 

 

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Bridging The Gap: The Trouble With Natsukashii

After putting some long delayed finishing touches on a Fujiko Mine post, it occurred to me that there is a bit of a disconnect between what it means to overture towards an already established fanbase, and speaking clearly enough that new audiences can appreciate the same work. And while I don’t plan on laying out every concern in this post, there’s definitely much to consider. This is especially so when regarding filmed entertainment such as movies and anime. Of course, there is the “safe bet” of familiarity for those currently bereft of successful ideas. It has been something of a constant throughout visual popular culture that such a well be present at all times, no matter the prosperity level. Shelling out a new rendition of something that has worked before often makes for a logical “band-aid” solution, but rarely is any kind of long-term one. Heck, the Japanese have virtually created an industry on so-called “natsukashii” goods and services, created to fill the hearts and minds of so many with memories of simpler thoughts and or times. But a fundamental issue that crops up time and again regarding familiar worlds, characters, situations, and the like, is in how far can a retread of familiar retain the flavor of the past without seeming out of touch with contemporary themes and concerns.

This all came to mind after watching the final episodes of the latest Lupin III series, and how that handled the differences between what was considered acceptable then versus today. With a presentation that is already pretty bold by the medium’s standards, a lot of Fujiko Mine comes equipped with the promise of a daring new take on what is considered something of a cultural evergreen. This was something, that at least to a fan like myself, that felt appropriate in this period of insightful reimagining & re-examination. Just as 007 has gone through something of a thorough contemporization in recent years, going so far as to modernizing some of the original mythology while retaining much of Ian Fleming’s darker undertones. As expressed in my previous reviews of Fujiko, there is a discord evident early on between an intent to offer up a bleak, edgy tone, and wholesale reverence for earlier incarnations of the Lupin universe. (much of which was already pretty violent despite what Miyazaki would have us believe) And yet, this is a telling microcosm of what happens very often in the dialogue exchange from creators to consumers.

It’s no real secret as to why the familiar is such a popular go-to for media companies. Just think of it. Very few things work as well as something that has in fact worked before. When being torn between a potentially groundbreaking, experimental piece of art(or heck, even just a show with a novel idea), and a proven successful product, it’s easy to see why bean counters opt for the safe bet. In such economically trying times, it’s no wonder we see more familiarity on display than ever. It’s all part of the self-preservation machine going into hyper-mode. There are thousands of great ideas out there, they just aren’t seen as being worth the gamble. (Which also explains much of the medium’s samey nature. The safety card is never far away.) When we anime fans are inudated with so many new shows per year, it’s easy to see why producers would get cold feet after a number of their riskiest titles fail to gather a sizeable viewership. After all, there are products to sell, and that stuff piles up like the madness.

Products are also a major area in which many shows are greenlit over. It’s pretty much the central nervous system of the entire anime industry. When one cannot consider the marketing potential of a series, it becomes less and less probable that a show can be made of it. Which is why shows like Puella Magi Madoka Magika can exist; they straddle the line between the artistic and commercial just fine, and require little thought as to what kind of character products can be manufactured & sold en masse. So if a show’s characters cannot be immortalized in a dakimakura, figure, toy set, gachapon, etc. , you’re show may just never be more than a script in a file cabinet. To be fair, this has been common practice for decades. Just look at all the classic robot shows of the past, realistic, and not so. The wiggle room for risk has always been shifting and shrinking as the market determines.

So the safety net of the past has this stigma with all, but it does so quite significantly with the Japanese. “Natukashii”, as in nostalgic, colors a great deal of the general perspective. The same is true here in the west, with a few exceptions here and there. But the way these cycles tend to happen with anime, it often is so with an almost uncompromisingly forced manner that implies an almost militant need to not rock the boat, and to keep things as close to the original as possible. And while this can indeed be fun (Gundam Unicorn comes rushing to mind), it can also truly stunt creativity, and worse yet, not represent the current mindset of the original author of the work. But perhaps the most dispiriting symptom of such a need to “retain an original essence”, is disregarding the climate of the times, often running face first into social-political dissonance. When Bond first arrived on the scene, the other big global contender was Soviet Russia. Now over 40 years later, not only have political opponents changed dramatically, as have ones of gender, information, social mores, etc. Even in the realm of moving visual media, the world moves on..Even when a series such as Lupin takes place in a vague time period that hews close to the early-to-mid 1960s, the possibility of looking at the world from unexpected social angles makes for potentially compelling viewing.

Of course, this often faceplants into what one can consider to be the very thing producers and fans often mutually refuse to open themselves to; re-examination. If there is anything that is anathema to the foundation of those who cling so tight to the “way things were”, this is it. While many do take change in stride, there will always be a reactionary opposite that decries any major nuance against new artistic license. It’s pretty much an inevitable matter of course. And again, this applies to western fans of famous properties as well.

So when this inevitability seems so firmly in place, why offer up the promise of something new, only to renege on it at the last second? Granted, anything can happen throughout the course of production, and funding is definitely an issue. But when the seams of a work show due to a disagreement between staff members, or possibly even the changeup in the writing team, it can harbor ill for the project as a whole. And as a viewer that is open to a retro, or a progressive approach to old tales, it can be problematic to witness such a pulling of the parachute so late in the game.

If there was anything of value gained by studying stories/film/etc. it’s that a solid foundation in the scripting phase is crucial for the remainder of the work to come across seamlessly. Every good story requires a spine, a rubric to refer to, something that all departments can keep mindful of so that the end product is consistent. Without it, as it implies, offers up an amorphous alternative – which can only work as long as a few tenets remain. But more often than not, leads to something of a confused mess. If we don’t know which side of the bread, the author’s butter is on, how can we fully trust in the message they are delivering? Even in the name of a plot twist, it has to be in the name of some central thought in order for it to even partially work.

With this in mind, there are other issues that often come to the fray when thinking of the past, and the temptation to revisit it. There’s always the concern of updating in a manner unbecoming of the original. Also, the headaches that often come with making a new rendition with new minds in the production cycle. Nothing ever remains completely the same, and a such, comes the dilemma as to what degrees the staff are willing to do to identify their own work.(leaving a stamp will always be a driving force) And lastly (for now), the dichotomy between the production/artistic voice of the originals versus the present world. These are all viable challenges that inform, and often plague many a new series/film. But the final word comes from the most important quantity in the whole equation. Something that far more studios/marketing arms should keep mind in listening to. Its a relationship so many can no longer assume they understand.

The past can be a lovely place. But without immediacy, so much runs risk of becoming the stuff of our collective amnesia.