Anime Classics - Space Battleship Yamato: The Movie

Let's first talk about Gundam. Everyone who reads this blog knows that I'm a huge Gundam fan. Gundam didn't do well at all at first, but took off after repeats, and eventually did well enough to garner support for a theatrical version. There were three theatrical movies that retold the series in movie form, and in many fans' opinions, improved it by removing some of the filler and streamlining the story by enforcing the "Newtype" element. This was in the late 1970s/early 1980s. But years earlier, this same thing had happened to another science fiction anime series. A show that was spearheaded by howitzer enthusiast Yoshinobu Nishizaki and remodeled by manga author/artist Leiji Matsumoto. The show was called Space Battleship Yamato, which, like Gundam, had a time release explosion. Space Battleship Yamato opens with the Earth in a crisis, having been bombed by aliens called the Gamilions until the surface of the planet is unhabitable. They have a year left before the radiation from the bombs reach the underground cities and extinguish the human race forever. A woman named Starsha from the planet Iscander sends word of a machine that will clean the radiation and restore the planet (how convenient), as well as blueprints for an engine for a spaceship that will allow them to traverse the galaxy to get to her planet. The Earth's military fits the sunken WWII battleship, the Yamato, with the engine, and it takes off to the stars, fighting the Gamilions and trying to get to Iscander.   

Originally, Yamato was supposed to be told in 3 arcs numbering 13 episodes. Unfortunately, it had to contend with the extremely popular Heidi, Girl of the Alps, directed by Isao Takahata, who went on to co-found Studio Ghibli, and didn't measure up in the ratings. They cut it down to 2 arcs of 13 episodes, the series ending at episode 26. At some point, it looked like this ship was sinking just as fast as its namesake. However, when the production staff wasn't looking, there appeared a groundswell of fan support for the show. Fan magazines, fan clubs, and word of mouth spread love for the show, enough support to make a theatrical version of the story. The result? Space Battleship Yamato: The Movie. However, the movie is more lackluster than blockbuster. What's wrong with this movie? Well, the original television series is 26 episodes. This movie is 130 minutes. Even factoring in padding, it's at least 20 episodes (roughly 20 minutes each) of vital storytelling material. So let's say six hours worth of material. Let's discount, say, two hours of material that can be edited to be even tighter than it is. So we're left with four hours. That's still 110 minutes more than this movie.

Do the math. This movie tries to cram in the plot of a 26 episode TV series in a movie just a little over 2 hours long. How does it do this? Cutting, cutting, cutting. The result is more of a bare bones "best of" or "summary" of the television series. Gone is the humanizing moments between members of the Yamato crew, the father-son-like relationship between main character (and it's hard to grasp this in the movie) Susumu Kodai and Captain Okita. Gone is the build up to the final battle with General Domel, who was menacing the Yamato for several episodes, only to die sacrificing himself after praising the crew's bravery. Gone are little moments like the crew's contact with their loved ones on Earth or Kodai's rivalry with Shima.

Instead, we get a "jist" with some redone animation for the big screen version and a slightly altered ending (which, to its credit, might be an improvement on the end of the TV show). We mostly get a showcase of the Yamato's abilities. Some of the elements that made Yamato great are still preserved, like its great dramatic romanticism and its larger message about humanity and adversity. But as truncated as it is, it falls very short of the feeling one gains from watching the TV series. Perhaps back in 1977, when Yamato-mania swept Japan, the idea of seeing a movie version of the television series was fresh and exciting. People who went to see it had most likely already seen and loved the TV series, so they wouldn't have been bothered. But you know what? This movie was my first foray into Yamato, back in 2005 when I bought a boxset of the Yamato movies at Otakon. I thought, "Okay, this is pretty good, but I know little about these characters." Space Battleship Yamato: The Movie has some fairly exciting space action and a great score by Hiroshi Miyagawa, but if you really want to experience Yamato, do it by watching the TV series. If you can find the fansubs.

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