The original Space Battleship Yamato, created by all-time great Leiji Matsumoto, appeared on Japanese screens in 1974 and through its more mature tone and more complex themes it inspired a whole generation, from young children who would grow up to be major forces in the industry (like Neon Genesis Evangelion’s Hideaki Anno) to people already in the industry being shown how the medium can tell different kinds of stories (like Mobile Suit Gundam’s Yoshiyuki Tomino) The scale of its success cannot be undersold, even the US dubbed and heavily modified version from 1979 titled Star Blazers was a hit, being among the first anime adaptations to have a slightly more mature theme and a flowing story arc rather than standalone episodes. So when a complete remake was announced in early the early 2010s, it was met with hesitation by most.
Space Battleship Yamato 2199 first debuted in Japan as a series of 8 feature films, ranging from 50 to 100 minutes in 2012-2013, which were always planned to be TV anime episodes and released as such on Blu-ray shortly after their cinema airing. The series was shown on TV from April 2013 to September that year, the 26-episode series being what’s contained on this set. For the sake of continuity (and in the hope to maybe pull in some older fans) the release was redubbed Star Blazers: Space Battleship Yamato 2199 in English-speaking markets, often just shortened to Star Blazers 2199, as it is on this release. I’ll admit to having never seen the original series beyond clips here and there, but I knew quite a bit about it due to its fame, so it was fun to read about the original after having finished watching this remake.
The basic plot of both series is that Earth came into contact with an alien race known as the Gamilas (or Garmillas) who eventually attack Earth, leaving it a barren husk devoid of plant-life and water, and forcing people to live underground. Eventually Earth gets word of another alien race called the Iscandarans, thanks to an emissary in the form of Sasha (or Yurisha and then her sister Sasha in this version), who gives Earth the ability to travel across interstellar space and reach their planet, Iscandar, where they can give humans the ability to reverse the state of Earth back to its natural beauty. Using the “Dimensional Wave Motion Engine”, Earth builds the titular space battleship and fills it with the best soldiers and the brightest of humanity as their last hope for survival, flying throughout the solar system and beyond, fighting off Gamilas and facing hardships with the fate of all humanity on their shoulders.
The lead protagonist is Susumu Kodai, a young and talented officer whose brother Mamoru was killed in an early skirmish with the Gamilas. He starts off bratty and angry, but cools down and becomes a respected high-ranked member of the crew as the series progresses, which is a pretty standard story arc, but it’s well done here. Among the other lead cast of this rather large ensemble are Yuki Mori, who was previously just the often helpless love interest of Kodai but now has more of a stronger role in the narrative (while still being his love interest) and their commanding officer Juzo Okita, who in the original was quite swiftly bed-ridden but here is commander for most of the journey. The Gamilas fare a little worse in the reboot, being far more obviously an analogy of Nazi Germany and wanting to destroy Earth because they won’t submit to the Gamilas’ rule, where as in the original they were wiping it clean to move their own struggling people there. This was surprising to read, especially as the “evil aliens” are shown to have more of a human side in this version, a mix of people going to war to keep their children safe, not actually approving of the enslavement or wiping out of whole species alongside the more straightforward ones.
The phrase “modernising” can cause a big worry, but I can happily say that it really works here. Little things are fun to discover, like how the original series had the ship being built using the frame of the wreck of the actual WWII battleship Yamato and it being changed to the general shape being used as camouflage in the desert that was once the sea in this version (this was mostly due to the actual Yamato wreck being found in pieces in ‘85) or how early episodes had Gamilas troops with Caucasian skin before switching to blue, which in this version is explained as the white troops being a race that had submitted to the main Gamilas’ rule and now work for them, which is fun and frankly unnecessary (if they just changed everyone to blue-skinned I don’t think anyone would’ve minded)
Bigger changes, like an increase in female crew members (and in fact previously male pilot Akira Yamamoto is now a female in this series and is far more prominently featured) and a redesign of the ship and its armaments to plug continuity errors are all welcome and make sense. Throw in the frankly stunning modern animation (but keeping a lot of the classic character designs, especially the ship’s robot “Anaylzer”, which is pleasingly 70s-looking!) and music, and you have a modernising of a classic that doesn’t do it for the hell of it. It really works. Some of the designs look a little silly now (especially the often moustachioed Gamilas generals) but the plot of an epic journey across space to save humanity is good enough to keep you hooked, and the ship-to-ship battles, epic base attack runs and lovely scenery, plus great subplots and side-stories keep the momentum going for the whole 26-episode run.
The opening theme, often simply referred to as “The Space Battleship Yamato Song”, was originally composed by Hiroshi Miyagawa and is given a more modern revision by his son Akira Miyagawa for this series, which is a nice connection. As for the endings you have “Aikotoba” by Mika Nakashima for Episodes 2-8, “Best of my Love” by Rei Yasuda for 9-17, and “Distance” by Juju for 18-26. The endings play with highlights of the previous episode in a box on the bottom left of the screen, so there isn’t any textless endings on this set! Extras feature a FUNimation documentary titled “The Newest Frontier: Star Blazers: Space Battleship Yamato 2199”, which is split into two halves found on Discs 2 and 4 (as the series was originally released in two halves in the US), commentary with US actors on Episodes 9 and 16, a look at the illustrations that went into designing the series in a feature simply titled “Illustrating Space Battleship Yamato 2199”, Promo videos and textless versions of the two different opening animations.
Space Battleship Yamato 2199 is a really enjoyable space opera, filled with fun character designs, high-grade animation and a really engrossing narrative. At only 26 episodes, I whole-heartedly recommend giving this a go.